APIA, Samoa -- Samoans searched flattened homes and debris-filled swamps, while dazed survivors told of being trapped underwater or flung inland by a tsunami that ravaged towns and killed at least 150 people in the South Pacific.
The day after the disaster struck, officials were expecting the
death toll to rise as more areas were searched.
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele's own village of Lesa was
washed away - like many others on Samoa and nearby American Samoa
and Tonga. He inspected Wednesday the southeast coast of the main
Samoan island of Upolu, the most heavily hit area. He described
seeing "complete" devastation.
"In some villages absolutely no house was standing. All that
was achieved within 10 minutes by the very powerful tsunami," he
A magnitude 8.0 quake struck off Samoa at 6:48 a.m. local time
(1:48 p.m. EDT; 1748 GMT) Tuesday. The islands soon 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 Samoas lie about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii,
just east of the international date line. That means the tsunami
hit Tuesday morning there, while it was already Wednesday in Asia.
Tuilaepa said the death toll in Samoa was 110, mostly elderly
and young children. At least 31 people were killed on American
Samoa, Gov. Togiola Tulafono said. Officials in the island nation
of Tonga said nine people had been killed.
Samoan police commander Lilo Maiava predicted the toll would
"It may take a week, two weeks or even three weeks" to
complete the search for the many people still missing, he said.
The quake was centered about 120 miles (190 kilometers) south of
the nation of Samoa, formerly part of New Zealand, which has about
220,000 people, and American Samoa, a U.S. territory of 65,000.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said it issued an
alert, but the waves came so quickly that residents only had about
10 minutes to respond.
New Zealand school teacher Charlie Pearse choked back tears as
she spoke to New Zealand's TV One News from an Apia hospital bed in
Samoa, recalling how she was trapped underwater and thought she was
going to die.
She was in the back of a truck trying to outrun the tsunami with
about 20 children when a wave tossed the truck and it landed on top
"We all went under the water and I think a number of the
children died instantly," Pearse said.
"I asked, 'Is this my time to come home? Take me home, I'm
ready,' and I let my breath out and I took a big gulp of water ...
and I don't know, I just popped out (from under the water),"
On the island of Upolu, taro farmer Tony Fauena said he ran for
the hills when the deadly tsunami thundered across the coast while
his niece ran to rescue her 6-month-old son. Villagers found the
bodies of the mother and son entangled in uprooted trees and debris
at the foot of lush mountains 200 yards (meters) from the ocean.
"Many parents died trying to protect their children," Fauena
told The Associated Press from the ruins of a brother's home in the
village of Sale Ataga on the southeast coast as he watched police
search the same area for four more missing relatives.
The heavily damaged southeast coast of the island was a stretch
of flattened, mud-swept villages. Mattresses hung from trees.
Police searched for survivors amid pulverized homes and bodies
scattered in a swamp. Several tourist resorts were wiped out,
FBI Releases Dramatic Video of Tsunami
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