Huffpost WorldPost

Earthquakes Rock Samoa, Indonesia (UPDATES)

Posted: Updated:

APIA, Samoa — Police searched a ghastly landscape of mud-swept streets, pulverized homes and bodies scattered in a swamp Wednesday as dazed survivors emerged from the muck of an earthquake and tsunami that killed at least 120 in the South Pacific.

Military transports flew medical personnel, food, water and medicine to Samoa and American Samoa, both devastated by a tsunami triggered by an undersea earthquake. A cargo plane from New Zealand brought in a temporary morgue and a body identification team.

Officials expect the death toll to rise as more areas are searched. Among the hardest hit areas was the southeast coast of Samoa, with authorities reporting that several tourist resorts were wiped out.

"To me it was like a monster – just black water coming to you. It wasn't a wave that breaks, it was a full force of water coming straight," said Luana Tavale, an American Samoa government employee.

Survivors fled to higher ground after the magnitude 8.0 quake struck at 6:48 a.m. local time (1:48 p.m. EDT; 1748 GMT) Tuesday. The residents then were engulfed by four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters) high that reached up to a mile (1.5 kilometers) inland.

The waves splintered houses and left cars and boats scattered about the coastline.

"I was scared. I was shocked," said Didi Afuafi, 28, who was on a bus when the giant waves came ashore on American Samoa. "All the people on the bus were screaming, crying and trying to call their homes. We couldn't get on cell phones. The phones just died on us. It was just crazy."

With the water approaching, the bus driver sped to the top of a nearby mountain, where 300 to 500 people were gathered, including patients evacuated from the main hospital. Among them were newborns with IVs, crying children and frightened elderly people.

A family on the mountain provided food and water, while clergymen led prayers. Afuafi said people were still on edge and feared another quake.

"This is going to be talked about for generations," said Afuafi, who lives just outside the village of Leone, one of the hardest hit areas.

Samoa National Disaster Management committee member Filomina Nelson told New Zealand's National Radio the number of dead in her country had reached 83 – mostly elderly and young children. At least 30 people were killed on American Samoa, Gov. Togiola Tulafono said.

Officials on the island of Tonga said Thursday nine people had been confirmed killed on the northern island of Niuas, and four critically injured people had been flown out for treatment. Two of the island's three villages were destroyed.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said it issued an alert, but the waves got to the islands so quickly that residents only had about 10 minutes to respond. Another system designed to alert aid agencies suffered a hardware malfunction that delayed notification, but that did not affect residents.

On Samoa, the two-hour drive from the Apia airport to the heavily damaged southeast coast became little more than a link between flattened villages. Mattresses hung from trees, and utility poles were bent at awkward angles.

It was clear that tourists were among the casualties, but officials said they had no solid number of visitors in the area.

Three of the key resorts on the coast are scenes of "total devastation" while a fourth "has a few units standing on higher ground," Nynette Sass of Samoa's National Disaster Management committee told New Zealand's National Radio on Thursday.

Dr. Ben Makalavea from Apia's main hospital told the broadcaster that some couples can't find their children, and fear they may have been washed out to sea. "One woman we saw was so confused that she doesn't even know where she comes from," he said.

Makalavea added that the hospital needs nurses, doctors, surgeons and blood to treat the increasing numbers of people with broken bones and cuts.

Red Cross relief workers were providing food, clothes and water to thousands of homeless now camping in the wooded hills above the coast. Volunteer Futi Mauigoa said water was in short supply.

"Tonight they are all going to be back up in the hills because the air out here is not really healthy for them," he said of the rotting stench in the disaster area.

In Sale Ataga village, more than 50 police searched for bodies underneath uprooted trees.

Tony Fauena, a 29-year-old farmer, said the bodies of his 35-year-old niece and her 6-month-old son were found Tuesday but four other family members were still missing. "We don't know if the rest are under there or released out to sea," he said.

Suavai Ioane in Voutosi village said he was carried by a wave about 80 yards (meters) inland. Eight bodies were found in a nearby swamp.

The quake was centered about 120 miles south of the islands of Samoa, which has about 220,000 people, and American Samoa, a U.S. territory of 65,000.

Another underwater earthquake of 7.6 magnitude rocked western Indonesia on Wednesday, briefly triggering a tsunami alert along the Indian Ocean. At least 75 people were reported killed. Experts said the seismic events were not related.

Officials in the South Pacific islands struggled with power and communications outages.

In American Samoa's capital of Pago Pago, power was expected to be out in some areas for up to a month, and officials said some 2,200 people were in seven shelters across the island.

The waves lifted a building housing a hardware store and carried it across a two-lane highway. Crews later found the two employees in the debris.

A Coast Guard C-130 plane loaded with aid and carrying Federal Emergency Management Agency officials flew from Hawaii to Pago Pago, where debris had been cleared from runways. President Barack Obama declared a major disaster for American Samoa.

Australian officials said they will send an air force plane carrying 20 tons of humanitarian aid, as well as aid officials and medical personnel to Samoa.

New Zealand provided 1 million New Zealand dollars ($710,000) in immediate aid to Samoa, Tonga and the Samoan Red Cross on Thursday. Acting Prime Minister Bill English said it was the first "of a long haul for ... New Zealand ... providing resources."

He said Prime Minister John Key is cutting short his U.S. vacation to fly to Samoa to inspect the damage.

Hundreds of people bombarded American Samoa's radio stations with requests to announce the names of their missing loved ones. Broadcasters urged listeners to contact their families immediately.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said three Australians were among the dead. The British Foreign Office said one Briton was missing and presumed dead.

While the earthquake and tsunami were big, they were not as large as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 230,000 in a dozen countries across Asia.

___

McGuirk reported from Apia, McAvoy from Pago Pago, American Samoa. Also contributing were Associated Press writers Fili Sagapolutele in Pago Pago, Ray Lilley in Wellington, New Zealand; Tanalee Smith in Adelaide, Australia; Jaymes Song, Mark Niesse, Herbert A. Sample in Honolulu, Cara Anna in Bangkok, Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, Calif., and Seth Borenstein and Michele Salcedo in Washington.

Around the Web

Tsunami hits Samoa islands after quake - Asia-Pacific - msnbc.com

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Samoa quake 'triggered tsunami'

Dozens feared dead after tsunami sweeps Samoa | World news | The ...

Samoa Earthquake Triggers Tsunami, Kills At Least 39 (VIDEO, PICTURES)

Tonga earthquake triggers tsunami threatening Tonga, Samoa and ...

Indonesia: Earthquake Hits Along Same Fault Line That Spawned 2004 ...