Dozens reported dead after temblor-generated waves strike
PAGO PAGO, American Samoa - A powerful Pacific Ocean earthquake spawned towering tsunami waves that swept ashore on Samoa and American Samoa early Tuesday, flattening villages, killing at least 39 people and leaving dozens of workers missing at devastated National Park Service facilities.
Cars and people were swept out to sea by the fast-churning water as survivors fled to high ground, where they remained huddled hours later. Signs of devastation were everywhere, with a giant boat getting washed ashore and coming to rest on the edge of a highway and floodwaters swallowing up cars and homes.
American Samoa Gov. Togiola Tulafono said at least 50 were injured, in addition to the deaths.
Hampered by power and communications outages, officials struggled to assess the casualties and damage. But the death toll seemed sure to rise, with dead bodies already piling up at a hospital in Samoa.
The quake, with a magnitude between 8.0 and 8.3, struck around dawn about 20 miles below the ocean floor, 120 miles from American Samoa, a U.S. territory that is home to 65,000 people. The country of Samoa is to the west of American Samoa.
Late Tuesday, President Obama declared a major disaster in American Samoa. The declaration provides federal aid to supplement local recovery efforts.
National park damaged
The territory is home to a U.S. national park that appeared to be especially hard-hit. Holly Bundock, spokeswoman for the National Park Service's Pacific West Region in Oakland, Calif., said the superintendent of the park and another staffers had been able to locate only a fifth of the park's 13 to 15 employees and 30 to 50 volunteers.
Mike Reynolds, superintendent of the National Park of American Samoa, was quoted as saying four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet high roared ashore soon afterward, reaching up to a mile inland. Holly Bundock, spokeswoman for the National Park Service's Pacific West Region in Oakland, Calif., said Reynolds spoke to officials from under a coconut tree uphill from Pago Pago Harbor and reported that the park's visitor center and offices appeared to have been destroyed.
Bundock said Reynolds and another park service staffer had been able to locate only 20 percent of the park's 13 to 15 employees and 30 to 50 volunteers.
Residents in both Samoa and American Samoa reported being shaken awake by the quake, which lasted two to three minutes. The initial quake was followed by at least three aftershocks of at least 5.6 magnitude.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a general alert from American Samoa to New Zealand; Tonga suffered some coastal damage from 13-foot waves.
Japan's Meteorological Agency also issued a tsunami warning all along that country's eastern coast.
Mase Akapo, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in American Samoa, said at least 19 people were killed in four different villages on the main island of Tutuila. He had no additional details.
In neighboring Samoa, an Associated Press reporter saw the bodies of about 20 victims in a hospital at Lalomanu town on the south coast of the main island of Upolu, and said the surrounding tourist coast had been devastated. At least three villages were flattened.
‘It was very quick’
An unspecified number of fatalities and injuries were reported in the Samoan village of Talamoa.
New Zealander Graeme Ansell said the beach village of Sau Sau Beach Fale was leveled.
"It was very quick. The whole village has been wiped out," Ansell told New Zealand's National Radio from a hill near Samoa's capital, Apia. "There's not a building standing. We've all clambered up hills, and one of our party has a broken leg. There will be people in a great lot of need 'round here."
Barry Rose, the owner of the Coconuts Beach Club in Samoa, told NBC News that his hotel took a direct hit, with several buildings completely destroyed. He said one guest was unaccounted for and one member of his staff was in the hospital with minor injuries. All guests have been evacuated either to the hospital or to other hotels on the island, he said.
He said the wave hit less than a minute after warning sirens went off.
News Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33075304/ns/world_news-asiapacific/