(NewstalkZB) — The death toll from the Samoan earthquake and tsunami is growing fast with the devastation at its worse on the southeast coast of the Western Samoan island Upolu.
A New Zealand man who has had been in touch with his family in Lalomanu has learned 40 people there have been killed by waves of up to six metres which struck the coast. In American Samoa, more than a dozen people have lost their lives. Local schools and halls in Samoa have been turned into emergency centres.
National Disaster Centre spokeswoman Philomena Nelson is advising people to stay on higher ground while authorities look for bodies and survivors.
“Everybody’s on higher ground at the moment. We’re setting up camp for everyone. They will stay there while we sort out especially the badly affected areas because they cannot come back to their homes, most of them have lost their homes.”
Ms Nelson says villagers on Upolu are cooking food for the homeless and authorities are making sure basic needs are met.
Iliili Resort owner Daniela Brussani says she and her business partner fled by car to a hill, where they watched the destruction on Upolu take place.
“I look at the back, saw the big wave arrive – a big wave – six of seven metres.”
Ms Brussani says her resort is now under two metres of water.
Another resort owner, Mataio, says the sea disappeared before his eyes. He says after an earthquake hit this morning he sat down and had a smoke but then had only five minutes to pack a bag and run for safety. Mataio says he if he did not have a car, he would not be alive now.
Scott Mulholland, who in a warehouse in Apia on higher ground, says his contacts tell him the picture is not good in Upolu, with major damage caused. Mr Mulholland says the all clear has still not been given to return to the Apia township.
Samoa’s Red Cross secretary general Tala Mauala says Upolu residents had little warning of the pending disaster.
“The waves were as high as coconut trees . . . so they had to rush onto the higher ground.”
Ms Mauala knows of a number of deaths, but there are no definite figures at this stage.
In American Samoa, Senetenari Malele from the radio station Showers of Blessings, says official figures from the local weather authority state that five tsunami waves have killed at least 14 people on the island. He says everyone has fled to the high mountain ranges.
The Air Force is sending an Orion to the areas affected by the quake and tsunami. A spokesman says the aircraft will conduct a reconnaissance mission surveying Samoa and the northern area of the Tongan island group.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs says 76 New Zealanders are registered as being in Samoa. It is advising anyone concerned about family members to try to make contact in the first instance. It says anyone with ongoing concerns should call the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Wellington.
MFAT is unable to confirm the reports that two New Zealanders have been injured in the quake. A spokesperson says enquires are being made.
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