APIA, Samoa — Convoys of military vehicles brought food, water and medicine to the tsunami-stricken Samoas on Thursday as victims wandered through what was left of their villages with tales of being trapped underwater, watching young children drown and hoisting elderly parents above the waves.
The death toll rose to 160 as grim-faced islanders gathered under a traditional meetinghouse to hear a Samoan government minister discuss a plan for a mass funeral and burial next Tuesday. Samoans traditionally bury their loved ones near their homes, but that could be impractical because many of their villages have been wiped out.
The dead from Tuesday's earthquake and tsunami include 120 in Samoa, 31 in American Samoa and nine in Tonga. Samoan police commander Lilo Maiava said the search for bodies could continue another three weeks.
Doctors and nurses were sent to devastated villages, and a refrigerated freight container was being used as a temporary morgue for the scores of bodies showing up at a Samoan hospital, officials said.
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The United States, Australia and New Zealand sent in supplies and troops, including a U.S. Navy frigate carrying two helicopters that will be used in search-and-rescue efforts. The Hawaii Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force flew three cargo planes to American Samoa that carried 100 Navy and Army guard personnel and reservists.
New Zealanders Joseph Bursin and Nicky Fryar said they scrambled to reach high ground as the tsunami wave surged toward the beachfront vacation resort they were staying at in Samoa.
They remember the noise most — the roar of the water, the clanging of metal roofing smashing against cars, the sound of buildings collapsing.
"We had about 15 or 20 seconds before the water came in underneath us," Bursin said. "There were people behind us who didn't make it and were taken by the water."