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Dozens dead as tsunami slams into Samoan islands PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 30 September 2009 12:30

CNN - A huge emergency effort is under way in the Samoan Islands after towering tsunami waves triggered by an 8.0 earthquake left dozens dead and entire villages flattened or submerged.

At least 84 people are so far confirmed dead in American Samoa and neighboring Samoa but officials fear the toll will rise as rescue workers work to reach outlying villages. Seven people were also confirmed killed in Tonga.

The quake hit the small cluster of Samoan islands in the South Pacific early Tuesday.

In Samoa, the death toll currently stands at 55, according to government minister Maulolo Tavita, but he said he feared the number of casualities would continue to rise.

In American Samoa, 22 people were confirmed dead by late Tuesday. But Salamo Laumoli, director of health services at the LBJ Tropical Medical Center in the capital, Pago Pago, said he feared more fatalities would turn up as rescue workers were still trying to access parts of the island severed by damaged infrastructure.

"I thought it was the end of the world," said Laumoli. "I have never felt an earthquake like that before."

In Tonga, Lord Tuita, the acting prime minister, said at least seven people had been confirmed dead on the northern island of Niuatoputapu. Three others were missing and four people were being treated for serious injuries, he said.

"The hospital on the island is reported to have suffered major damage; telephone communications has been cut as a result of damage to equipment and facilities on the island; homes and government buildings have been destroyed; the airport runway has been severely damaged making it impossible for any fixed wing aircraft to land," a statement from the Tongan prime minister's office said.

A series of aftershocks reverberated through the region Tuesday as reports emerged of entire villages flattened or submerged by the tsunami. The walls of water were so strong that they twisted concrete beams and mangled cars.

Laumoli said people in outlying villages on one end of the main American Samoa island have been cut off because the connecting bridge was washed away.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, has canceled tsunami watches and warnings for American Samoa. However, a tsunami advisory is still in effect for for the coastal areas of California and Oregon.

The Japan Meteorological Agency canceled a tsunami advisory along its eastern coast Wednesday. The precautionary alert meant forecasters feared a tsunami wave of less than a foot and a half was possible.

American Samoa Gov. Togiola Tulafono, speaking from Hawaii, said Tuesday's quake ranked "right up there with some of the worst" disasters on the island. He said he had spoken to the military about mobilizing reserve forces for assistance.

Tulafono was on his way back home from Hawaii on Tuesday night on one of two U.S. Coast Guard C-130 transport planes delivering aid. He told reporters Tuesday that it was hard being away from home when disaster came calling. It was a time, he said, for families to be together.

President Barack Obama declared American Samoa a major disaster area, ordering federal aid to supplement local efforts.

The Coast Guard is transporting more than 20 officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to American Samoa, said John Hamill, external affairs officer for FEMA in Oakland, California.

The FEMA team will include a variety of debris experts, housing experts, members of the Corps of Engineers, and other disaster relief specialists, Hamill said.

The quake generated three separate tsunami waves, the largest measuring 5.1 feet from sea level height, said Vindell Hsu, a geophysicist with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Preliminary data had originally reported a larger tsunami.

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