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Destruction and death left in wake


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POSTED: Wednesday, September 30, 2009

APIA, Samoa » A powerful Pacific Ocean earthquake spawned towering tsunami waves that swept ashore on Samoa and American Samoa, flooding and flattening villages, killing at least 82 people and leaving dozens missing.

Cars and people were swept out to sea by the fast-churning water as survivors fled to higher ground, where they remained huddled hours after the quake struck early yesterday.

Signs of devastation were everywhere, with a giant boat washed ashore lying on the edge of a highway and floodwaters swallowing up cars and homes.

Rescue workers found a scene of destruction and debris with cars overturned or stuck in mud, and rockslides hit some roads.

The quake, with a magnitude between 8.0 and 8.3, struck around dawn about 125 miles from Samoa, a South Pacific island nation of about 180,000 people located about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii.

It struck about 120 miles from neighboring American Samoa, a U.S. territory of about 65,000 people.

;[Preview]  American Samoa's Governor Expresses Concern
 

American Samoa's Governor is here in Hawaii monitoring developments of the devasting quake.

Watch ]

 

Four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet high roared ashore soon afterward, reaching up to a mile inland, Mike Reynolds, superintendent of the National Park of American Samoa, was quoted as saying by a parks service spokeswoman.

Hampered by power and communications failures, officials struggled hours later to determine damage and casualties.

Samoan Police Commissioner Lilo Maiava said police there had confirmed 63 deaths but that officials were still searching the devastated areas, so the number of deaths might rise soon.

Hundreds of injured were being treated by health workers, and people are still struggling into centers seeking treatment, Maiava said.

At least 19 people were killed on American Samoa, officials there said.

“;I don't think anybody is going to be spared in this disaster,”; said acting American Samoa Gov. Faoa A. Sunia.

;[Preview]  Beachgoers Cautioned In Waikiki
 

Even after the Tsunami Watch was replaced with an Advisory, state civil defense officials cautioned people to avoid the ocean.

Watch ]

 

Sunia declared a state of emergency in American Samoa, describing “;immense and widespread damage to individual, public and commercial buildings in coastal areas”; along with death and injury.

Gov. Togiola Tulafono, who was in Honolulu for a conference, told reporters that more victims could be found when rescuers reach areas that are inaccessible by roads. Tulafono said a member of his extended family was among the dead.

There were unconfirmed reports of at least five additional people dead in the island nation of Tonga, west of the Samoas, New Zealand's acting Prime Minister Bill English said.

“;There are a considerable number of people who've been swept out to sea and are unaccounted for,”; English said. “;We don't have information about the full impact, and we do have some real concern that over the next 12 hours the picture could look worse rather than better.”;

He said a New Zealand P3 Orion maritime surveillance plane would reach the region later today to search for survivors.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said an Australian woman has been confirmed killed in Samoa, three other Australians have been hospitalized and six other Australians remain unaccounted for after the tsunami.

Mase Akapo, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in American Samoa, reported at least 19 people killed in four different villages on the main island of Tutuila. Officials reported at least 50 injured.

In Washington, President Barack Obama issued a disaster declaration, making federal funds available to victims in American Samoa.

Rear Adm. Manson Brown, Coast Guard commander for the Pacific region, said the Coast Guard is in the early stages of assessing what resources to send to American Samoa. Coast Guard spokesman Lt. John Titchen said a C-130 was being dispatched today to deliver aid, assess damage and take the governor home. A New Zealand air force P3 Orion maritime search airplane also was being sent.

One of the runways at Pago Pago International Airport was being cleared of debris for emergency use, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said in Los Angeles.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was deploying teams to American Samoa to provide support and assess damage.