National

hquake, tsunami kill at least 119 people

APIA, Samoa — Police in green reflective vests searched a ghastly landscape of mud-strewn streets, pulverized homes and bodies scattered in a swamp Wednesday as dazed survivors emerged from the muck and mire of an earthquake 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, both devastated by a tsunami triggered by an undersea earthquake. A cargo plane from New Zealand 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 on the islands after the magnitude 8.0 quake struck at 6:48 a.m. local time Tuesday. The residents then were engulfed by four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet high that reached up to a mile inland.

The waves splintered houses and left cars and boats — many battered and upside down — 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 encountering 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 bus driver sped to the top of a nearby mountain, where 300 to 500 people were gathered, including patients evacuated 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, while clergy led prayers. Afuafi said people are still on edge and feared another quake.

On Samoa, the two-hour drive from the Apia airport to the heavily damaged southeast coast initially showed no sign of damage before becoming little more than a link between one flattened village after another. Mattresses hung from trees, and utility poles were bent at awkward angles.

"This is going to be talked about for generations," said Afuafi, who lives just outside the village of Leone, one of the areas hit hardest.

  Comments