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Oct 1, 2009 2:42 PM by Associated Press

Death toll in Samoas tsunami grows to 149

Samoans searched flattened homes and debris-filled swamps Thursday as more military ships and planes began arriving on the disaster-stricken Pacific islands after an earthquake and tsunami that killed at least 150 people.

The day after the disaster struck, officials were expecting the death toll to rise as more areas were searched - a process that could take several weeks.

A Navy frigate carrying two helicopters and medical supplies arrived late Wednesday in American Samoa, and the Air Force dispatched two cargo planes. Australian officials said they will send an air force plane carrying 20 tons of humanitarian aid.

"This is a devastating earthquake and a devastating tsunami," Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinating officer Kenneth Tingman told reporters in American Samoa. "We know that power is paramount but we are also doing life saving and life sustaining efforts."

A magnitude 8.0 quake struck off Samoa at 6:48 a.m. local time Tuesday. The islands soon were engulfed by four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet high that reached up to a mile inland.

The Samoas lie about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, just east of the international date line.

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 inspected Wednesday the southeast coast of the main Samoan island of Upolu, the most heavily hit area. He described seeing "complete" devastation. Dazed survivors told of being trapped underwater or flung inland by the tsunami.

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

"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.

Tuilaepa said the death toll in Samoa was 110, mostly elderly and young children. At least 31 people were killed on American Samoa, Gov. Togiola Tulafono said. Officials in the island nation of Tonga said nine people had been killed.

 

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