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Day of death in Samoa

Published: 5:34AM Thursday October 01, 2009 Source: ONE News/Newstalk ZB

Samoa is reeling as it deals with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Acting Prime Minister Bill English says the New Zealand death toll appears to be at three, with two confirmed dead and one missing presumed dead.

"My understanding is that there is certainly one tourist. And it may be the other two are residents (of Samoa)."

Nine New Zealanders are confirmed injured in hospital in Apia.

English says the devastation on the small community is becoming more apparent and an estimated 10,000 Samoan people are displaced.

"We need to get the international co-ordination going. We've got France and Australia who have very generously offered any assistance that is needed, alongside New Zealand.

"Some of the infrastructure is just wiped out ... housing, fresh water ... and those are going to be the immediate needs that have to be met for thousands of Samoans."

ONE News reporter Paul Hobbs says witnesses have described scenes of death and destruction alongside dramatic survival stories.

The death toll of over 100 appears to be largely a guess, with dozens still missing and the numbers of fatalities expected to climb.

A medic at the national hospital in Apia told Hobbs people were coming in on the back of trucks with gashes filled with sand. He says battered bodies were being taken straight to the morgue.

Hobbs says communication with the southern side of the island is patchy and roading has been obliterated making it hard to get aid supplies in.

The first funeral service has been held.

Grim recovery task

Rescue teams have now started their grim task of searching under debris and rubble for bodies as aid starts to arrive in the country.

New Zealand's liaison officer based in Samoa, Superintendent Ross Ardern, says the police command base has been moved to the southern side of the island where damage is the worst. Ardern says the evacuation from low-lying areas around Apia went well and was helped by many police out on the roads because of the driving change-over to the left hand side of the road.

A New Zealander on the ground in Samoa, Juli Clausen, says she fears the death toll will climb dramatically. She says she has seen graphic images including babies covered in sand being brought into hospital wrapped in lava lavas, and grim scenes of the injured.

Clausen believes a better picture will emerge over the next day or so of the true extent of the tsunami's damage. She says cars have floated away in the sea and whole villages have been wiped out.

Clausen says the locals have learnt a lot from the massive Indonesian Boxing Day quake of 2004 and the evacuation was very orderly.

Relief in Auckland

There were tears of relief at Auckland Airport as the first group of New Zealanders returned from Samoa to be reunited with family.

Pam Rose was holidaying with a group of friends at Siumu Bay on the main island of Upolu. She says the staff at the resort they were staying at told them to start running for the hills when the earthquake struck, while they ran to get vans to drive them to safety.

Rose says that by the time they reached the top of the hill half their resort had gone, along with the building next door and the hospital. She understands the hospital wasn't evacuated before the first wave struck.

Chris Rupe and his partner Megan Webster walked through the arrival gates in Auckland with only the clothes on their backs. Rupe recalled the life or death moment as the tsunami chased them as they ran up a hill, saying the water was rushing up behind them. He says the water was green and frothy and the tsunami hit about seven minutes after the earthquake.

Rupe says if it wasn't for the prompt warning by the resort's security staff they would have died.

The capital Apia appears to have been far more prepared for the threat of tsunamis compared to the coastal areas. Fotu Becerra had been visiting family and says the freak waves claimed the life of a good friend who she was meant to be catching up with.

Becerra says as soon as the earthquake struck officials in Apia were ready and waiting for the tsunami warning sirens. She says the government has recently run tsunami drills in the city, but they don't have any warning systems for the rest of the country.

Becerra says she saw trucks loaded with bodies being brought into the city centre.

Mfat gathering details

Mfat is providing assistance to New Zealanders caught up in the tsunami. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the New Zealand High Commission in Apia are talking to local authorities, visiting the three hospitals on the mainland and visiting hotels in a bid to establish the status of New Zealanders.

It says it knows of 16 New Zealanders who have been injured and the New Zealand High Commission is in contact with them. Some have already been discharged from hospital.

Around 500 New Zealanders are estimated to be in Samoa and 300 have been confirmed as alive and well. The High Commission is checking on another 160 New Zealanders it has received general inquiries about.

New Zealanders currently in Samoa are being urged to make contact with friends and family in New Zealand to allay any concerns.

The New Zealand High Commission has opened up a cyclone shelter at the compound for New Zealand travellers who need emergency accommodation assistance.

Two additional consular staff from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade have been deployed to Apia to provide assistance to the High Commission.

Many survivors have lost all their possessions and are turning up with no clothes, no money and no passport.

The Red Cross has been handing out tents and supplies and schools have been set up as evacuation centres.

Acting Prime Minister Bill English says the government has sent medical staff and supplies, tents, stretchers and food and temporary morgues to accommodate the number of dead via an Air Force Hercules. He says additional medical personnel will most likely be sent on a commercial flight.

The Navy is also set to join disaster relief efforts in Samoa. English says the HMNZS Canterbury is being prepared for deployment. The vessel is currently under maintenance after conducting exercises in Samoa just over a month ago, but could be ready to sail in a matter of days.

English says it would provide extra heavy lift capability to get necessary equipment to the region. He says that includes water purification plants, generators, building materials, and more durable accommodation.

English says decisions on deployment will be made following discussion with the Samoan government.

Travel cancellations

Travel agents are scrambling to rebook customers who had planned to head to Samoa with their families during the second week of the school holidays.

Flight Centre spokeswoman Marie Pilkington says in most cases people are covered by their travel insurance and airlines are not charging for a change of flight. However she says people booked at the few resorts which are undamaged or can still function are not covered by insurance and will have to decide whether or not to continue with their plans or bear the cost of cancelling.

Both Aggie Grey's Hotel and Aggie Grey's Resort are among the few resorts untouched.

The new cellphone company 2degrees is offering free calls to the countries worst affected by the tsunami, including Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. The deal will run until October 15 and has a five minute cap on the calls.

Anyone worried about the safety of non-New Zealand relatives in Samoa should contact the Samoan High Commission on 04 472 0953.

The New Zealand Red Cross has also launched a Samoa Tsunami Relief project at givealittle.co.nz 

Share your stories or condolences following Samoa's tsunami on our messageboard

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  • jaxlino said on 2009-10-07 @ 14:15 NZDT: Report abusive post

    anyone from the Satitoa village?

  • markservian said on 2009-10-05 @ 21:05 NZDT: Report abusive post

    Tai Taufua is interviewed in this story... http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/church-comforts-many-in-samoa-3048401/video

  • Liviyj12 said on 2009-10-05 @ 19:30 NZDT: Report abusive post

    i feel sorry fot those who have been affected.... i also feel sorry for Vai. he has lost so much of his family..:(

  • Micksta said on 2009-10-05 @ 11:16 NZDT: Report abusive post

    My heart goes out to everyone who has lost family member/s in the earthquake and tsunami. I know what it would be like, as I was in Samoa as the earthquake struck and I read and saw the devastating effects of the tsunami that followed, both in newspapers and also for real. I would like to say that Nuu Black Sand Beach was hit my the tsunami and is in a bad state (Not that much of an attraction now).

  • PurpleOlive said on 2009-10-05 @ 09:04 NZDT: Report abusive post

    I am so sad for all who have lost family members. We are humbled by how quickly lives can be lost. Our hearts go out to each and every one of you and I cry tears for your sweet babies. Your pain is shared by our thoughts and may you find the strength within yourselves to carry on, xox

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