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Published: Thursday, 10/1/2009

Samoa toll mounts as survivors recount tsunami horrors

ASSOCIATED PRESS

APIA, Samoa - Police searched a landscape of mud-strewn streets, pulverized homes, and bodies scattered in a swamp yesterday as dazed survivors emerged from the muck and mire of a quake and tsunami that killed at least 119 in the South Pacific.

Military transports flew medical personnel, food, water, and medicine to Samoa and American Samoa, two islands devastated by a tsunami triggered by an undersea quake. A New Zealand cargo plane brought in a temporary morgue and a body identification team.

Officials expect the death toll to rise as more areas are searched.

Survivors fled to higher ground after the magnitude 8.0 quake struck at

6:48 a.m. local time Tuesday. Four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet high that reached up to a mile inland engulfed residents. The waves splintered houses and left cars and boats scattered about the coastline. Debris as small as a spoon and as large as a piece of masonry weighing several tons were strewn in the mud.

Survivors told harrowing tales of the deadly tsunami.

"I was scared. I was shocked," said Didi Afuafi, 28, who was on a bus when the giant waves came ashore on American Samoa. "All the people on the bus were screaming, crying, and trying to call their homes. We couldn't get on cell phones. The phones just died on us. It was just crazy."

With the water approaching fast, the driver sped to the top of a nearby mountain, where 300 to 500 people were gathered, including patients from the main hospital. Among them were newborns with IVs, crying children, and frightened elderly people.

A family atop the mountain provided food and water, and clergy led prayers.

On Samoa's heavily damaged southeast coast, many villages were flattened. Mattresses hung from trees and utility poles were bent at awkward angles.

Tourists were among the casualties, but figures were impossible to ascertain immediately, and officials said they had no solid head count on the number of visitors in the area.

Three of the key resorts on the coast are scenes of "total devastation" while a fourth "has a few units standing on higher ground," Nynette Sass of Samoa's National Disaster Management committee told New Zealand's National Radio today.

Dr. Ben Makalavea from Apia's main hospital told the broadcaster that some couples can't find their children, and fear they may have been washed out to sea. "One woman we saw was so confused that she doesn't even know where she comes from," he said.

Red Cross relief workers were providing food, clothes, and water to thousands of homeless camping in the wooded hills above the coast.

At Sale Ataga village, more than 50 police, some wearing masks to filter out some of the growing stench of decay in the steamy conditions, searched for bodies underneath uprooted trees and palms piled up at the foot of a mountain.

Farmer Tony Fauena said the bodies of his niece and her 6-month-old son were found Tuesday but four others were missing. "We don't know if the rest are under there or released out to sea," he said.

Faletolu Senara Tiatia said nine family members had been confirmed dead and more than 20 others still were missing from the Lalomanu village area.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said it issued an alert after the quake, but residents had about 10 minutes to respond before the waves hit. The quake was centered about 120 miles south of the islands of Samoa, which has about 220,000 people, and American Samoa, a U.S. territory of 65,000. Another undersea quake rocked western Indonesia yesterday.



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