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October 2, 2009

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Samoans search for tsunami survivors

SAMOANS sifted the wreckage of their flattened homes and told of being trapped underwater or flung inland by a tsunami that ravaged towns and killed at least 150 people in the South Pacific.

The day after the disaster struck, officials were expecting the death toll to rise as more areas were searched.

"To me it was like a monster - just black water coming to you. It wasn't a wave that breaks, it was a full force of water coming straight," said Luana Tavale, an American Samoa government employee.

Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele's own village of Lesa was washed away - like many others on Samoa and nearby American Samoa and Tonga. He described seeing "complete" devastation during a tour of the main Samoan island of Upolu.

"In some villages absolutely no house was standing. All that was achieved within 10 minutes by the very powerful tsunami," he said.

A magnitude 8 quake struck off Samoa at 6:48am Tuesday. The islands soon were engulfed by four tsunami waves 4 to 6 meters high that reached up to 1.5 kilometers inland.

Tuilaepa said the death toll in Samoa was 110, mostly elderly and young children.

At least 31 people were killed on American Samoa, Governor Togiola Tulafono said. Officials in the island nation of Tonga said nine people had been killed.

Samoan police commander Lilo Maiava predicted the toll would rise.

"It may take a week, two weeks or even three weeks" to complete the search for the many people still missing, he said.


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