Tsunami deaths likely to rise in Pacific islands
Relief workers in American and Western Samoa on Thursday searched for survivors after a series of tsunamis smashed into the tiny Pacific islands, killing possibly more than 100 people and flattening villages, Reuters reported.
Television images showed homes ripped apart, cars submerged in the sea or lodged in trees and large fishing boats hurled ashore by the waves generated by a 8.0 magnitude quake southwest of American Samoa, a U.S. territory.
Some victims were washed out to sea by waves that reached at least 6 meters (20 feet) high.
A second 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit the Indonesian island of Sumatra late Wednesday, prompting the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to issue a tsunami watch for Indonesia, India, Thailand and Malaysia.
U.S. President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in the U.S. territory of American Samoa and ordered federal aid to help recovery efforts. Two U.S. C-130 transport planes were due to arrive there on Thursday, the beginning of an air bridge that will bring in relief workers and supplies.
"This will not be a short-term response," said Craig Fugate, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which coordinates the federal government's response to disasters.
"We know we're going to have to work to get resources in there, both in the immediate, which is the airlift, but also looking at shipping to bring in resources that are going to be needed in the next couple of weeks," he told reporters.
Fugate said the airport in American Samoa had been reopened but he stopped short of estimating casualties, saying the agency would wait for reports from Togiola Tulafono, the governor of the U.S. territory.
Speaking from Hawaii, Tulafono said at least 24 people were killed and 50 injured in American Samoa, with the southern portion of the main Tutuila island "devastated."
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said at least 60 people had been killed in Western Samoa.
The Australian government said two Australians, a 6-year-old girl and a woman aged 50, were killed and six others were missing. "It does look like there will be substantial loss of life in Samoa," said Australian Aid Minister Bob McMullan.
In Washington, Obama offered his condolences and said the United States was sending help to American Samoa.
"We also stand ready to help our friends in neighboring Samoa and throughout the region and we will continue to monitor this situation closely as we keep the many people who have been touched by this tragedy in our thoughts and our prayers.
HUGE WAVES, BUILDINGS DEMOLISHED
Shortly after local radio tsunami warnings were issued in American and Western Samoa, waves started crashing into the capital of American Samoa, Pago Pago, and villages and resorts on the southern coasts, witnesses said.