Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Quake and tsunami death toll rises in Samoa and American Samoa

The death toll from the massive earthquake and tsunami in Samoa and neighbouring American Samoa is continuing to rise, with emergency officials in the Samoan capital Apia saying 62 people are now confirmed dead.
Another 142 people are listed as injured.
In American Samoa the official death toll is now at least two dozen.
Up to 10 people are also feared to have died from the tsunami in Tonga where officials have confirmed seven people are dead, three remain missing and four have serious injuries.
In Samoa, the spokesperson for the Disaster Management Office, Filomena Nelson, says many of the dead are children and elderly people who were evacuated but came back to watch.
She says the toll is sure to rise.
“We’re expecting it to increase this evening. All our emergency services are out in the affected area and are doing the search for those who are buried under the debris at the moment, and just doing our search to get people out if there are casualties and injuries.”
The Disaster Management Office in Samoa says children and the elderly make up most of the death toll following the 8.0 earthquake and tsunami which struck early on Tuesday Samoa time.
The quake centred some two hundred kilometres southwest of Samoa at a depth of only ten kilometres.
Meanwhile, police in Samoa say they were responsible for a second tsunami alert issued in Apia about 11 hours later.
The central business district was evacuated again and residents told to move to higher ground.
The police working on the coast of the island thought they had seen another body of water approaching and radioed to the central office in Apia to set off the alarm.
They say the alarm has been stopped and people are returning to their homes.
Senior health officials in Samoa are talking to Australia and New Zealand about the sort of medical help that might be required following the disaster.
Teams have been sent out to provide emergency help on the southern coast of the island of Upolu where there are two local hospitals.
One at Lalomanu is stabilising the injured and taking in the dead, the other at Poutasi is thought to have been affected by the earthquake and subsequent waves.
The Chief Executive Officer at the Ministry of Health, Palanitina Toelupe, is at the main hospital and says people were injured by collapsing buildings and then the huge seas:
“We have had people brought in that have been washed out and then washed back in, washed in and then washed back out. We have a couple that were in a car with three children, they were washed out to the sea, then two children got killed and the couple and their eldest son were saved.”
Mrs Toelupe says the area is devastated and many families have relatives missing.
The scene on the south coast of the main island of Upolu is being described as mayhem.
Dive school owner Ian Cooper says the massive wave and the destruction have left him and others in the area feeling shell shocked.
“It hit the beach, it didn’t go very far inland where we were, but the power of the wave, I mean it’s phenomenal what it’s done. I mean it’s ripping up concrete and a lot of places have only got concrete slabs left of their buildings. The first time I arrived it was just utter destruction, I mean I couldn’t believe my eyes. My vessel, my diving boat, it’s a three-tonne diving boat, it’s now sitting on top of the hotel next door.”
Ian Cooper says there is no power in the area and he is still trying to make sense of what has happened.
Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi says he is shocked beyond belief by the devastation.
Tuilaepa has described it as an unimaginable tragedy, saying so much has gone and so many people are gone.
In neighbouring American Samoa, emergency shelters have been set up and roads are being cleared of debris.
The American Samoa Governor, Togiola Tulafono, who is in Honolulu, says at least 24 people died.
A State of Emergency has been declared following the earthquake and ensuing tsunami.
There’s been reported wide-spread damage to individual, public and commercial buildings in coastal areas while the capital Pago Pago is among the worst affected areas.
Shelters have been activated by various churches particularly on the eastern side of the main island Tutuila and are currently being filled by people left homeless from the disaster.
The Public Information officer at American Samoa’s office of homeland security, Betty Ah Son, says land transport links are being restored quickly.
“The Department of Public Works were able to clear most of the debris off the roads and people are able to travel around. we’re trying to discourage them from just jumping in the car and looking around so we have more room for emergency vehicles. We have activated the department of education school bus system to transport people that have damaged their homes and need to get into shelters.”
Betty Ah Son says most of American Samoa’s population is without electricity because the power infrastructure was devastated.
But she says in the meantime several villages on Tutuila are using generators, as is the main hospital which is now operational again after being evacuated.
“They’ve got their own generator now. The only thing that they have asked is co-ordinating some more power to assist with the two containers which (hold) the bodies at the morgue.”
Meanwhile, Tonga’s emergency services are having trouble sending a plane to the northern islands after reports that the tsunami may have killed ten people on Niuatoputapu.
The plane was unable to land at the local airport which has been forced to close after reported damage from the tsunami.
The National Emergency management office’s, Mafua Maka, says they have had no contact to the island.
“At this stage, we have unofficially confirmed that ten people are missing on Niuatoputapu. We have sent a plane, a charter flight, and they were assessing the situation from the air.”
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s government has been in contact with Samoan officials to determine the most urgent priorities for supplies and personnel, following this morning’s devastating earthquake and tsunami off Samoa.
New Zealand has offered Samoa any assistance that Samoa needs both in the short term, and to help accommodate people and rebuild infrastructure in the coming months.
An Airforce Orion, mainly carrying medical supplies, has already left for Samoa while New Zealand’s Acting Prime Minister Bill English says a Hercules aircraft is to be sent with more supplies following a request from Samoan officials.
“And they have asked for medical supplies for tents, for temporary morgue facilities, stretchers and food supplies. We’ll also be sending a medical team up and more medical personnel.”
New Zealand’s Red Cross is planning to send tarpaulins, water containers and first aid kits to Samoa to assist the victims of the earthquake and tsunami.
The organisation’s international operations manager, Andrew McKie, says 130 Samoan volunteers are already on the ground to help the victims.
But Mr McKie says they need some help.
“They have requested assistance with, firstly a person going over and help them take stock of the situation and assist with assessments along the southern coast. We’re also deploying some emergency relief supplies, which is 500 tarpaulins, 500 water containers and 200 first aid kits.”
Andrew McKie hopes the emergency supplies will be sent tomorrow.
The Northern Cook Islands appears to have escaped unscathed from the earthquake and tsunami.
A spokesperson from the Cook Islands High Commission in Wellington has confirmed the low-lying Islands of Palmerston and Pukapuka which are the closest in the group to Samoa have been unaffected by the disaster.
Telecom New Zealand says phone lines to the Cook Islands have been down because of this morning’s events.
Meanwhile, residents in Niue, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Kiribati and eastern parts of Fiji all took precautions against the tsunami but reported no significant activity.

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