Reports show at least 111 people are dead in Samoa and neighboring American Samoa and Tonga. Rescuers fear the death toll will rise as they reach out to outlying villages squashed by the wave.
CNN reports that American Samoa resident Frances Faumatu said she fled to Aoloau, the highest village on the island.
“All of a sudden we heard on the radio everybody had to run for safety,” she said. “Right after the quake, the tsunami came.”
Faumatu and many others stayed on the mountain for two or three hours until the warning was lifted. They saw Pago Pago, the island’s capital, appear to be swallowed by the sea.
At least 22 people are confirmed dead in the U.S. island territory. There are cars, boats, debris, and parts of buildings strewn over the landscape.
The 8.0-magnitude quake hit the small cluster of Samoan islands in the South Pacific early Tuesday.
Around 220,000 people live on the two main islands which make up the nation of Samoa. The population of American Samoa is about 66,000.
Patients at the hospital were briefly moved to higher ground, but they were soon brought back and the hospital is operating, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency said. The airport in the capital of Pago Pago was also operational and being used for emergency flights, FEMA said.
“The wave came onshore and washed out people’s homes,” said Cinta Brown, an American Samoa homeland security official working at the island’s emergency operations center.
The same happened on the hard-hit east and west sides of American Samoa, said Brown, who was standing in a parking lot when her sport utility vehicle began rocking left and right.
She said she could hear the rattling of metal of a large chain-link fence around the lot. “It shakes you because you know something else is coming,” she 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 had been cut off because the connecting bridge was washed away.
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 transport planes delivering aid. He told reporters Tuesday it had been hard being away from home as the disaster unfolded.
U.S. 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
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.
Here are videos on the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the area:
Click Thumbnails for Larger pictures
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