Samoa, American Samoa Struck By Massive Tsunami

The Pacific islands of Samoa and American Samoa have been hit with a devastating tsunami. Giant waves flattened villages and swept people and property away. Scores of people have been killed. Maposua Norman Paul, who owns a resort in Samoa, talks with Renee Montagne about the hardest hit area of the island.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A powerful earthquake in the waters of the South Pacific unleashed a tsunami that swept on to the Samoan Islands, flattened coastal villages and resorts. So far more than a hundred deaths have been reported with a toll expected to rise. The damage is massive. President Obama has declared American Samoa a disaster area.

To find out more, we reached Maposua Norman Paul in Samoa. He owns a resort and has just come back from a drive along the coast, a place that was the hardest hit.

Good morning.

Mr. MAPOSUA NORMAN PAUL (Resort Owner, Samoa): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What have did people tell happened when the tsunami hit? How did they describe it?

Mr. PAUL: Well, immediately after the shake, the earthquake happened which is registered at 8.3, they saw the waters recede out to the coastal reef and they knew something was happening. And they made for higher ground. And this came and just wiped everything out that was in its path, completely, including some beautiful vessels that were parked in the lagoon; threw them up onto the higher ground. But nobody died along that particular side of the coast.

MONTAGNE: Were you able to see, at the time when you were traveling, homes or, you know, other areas besides the resort, I mean, to know the sense of people being left homeless?

Mr. PAUL: Oh, yes. In between the main coastal road, which the waters didn't reach, most houses and the buildings that were in the path of the tsunami were actually all destroyed - completely along the whole coast.

MONTAGNE: Hmm. Did you have any sense of whether those people in those homes escaped?

Mr. PAUL: Some were able to make it to higher ground. Others, because it was so early in the morning; the children were getting ready to go to school, the elderly were, you know, getting their usual meals for the morning for the kids before they go to school. No, they didn't make it. And to this hour they're still searching for those people's bodies. Which - some have been recovered, some have not been recovered.

You know, in five minutes from the time that the earthquake hit to the tsunami actually hitting, it's just not ample time for anybody to run to higher ground. No way.

MONTAGNE: Uh-huh. And services, are people able to get such things as water?

Mr. PAUL: Yes. Yes, the water system - still intact. The power lines are intact. And that's just on one part of the coast. But we drove along towards the east, which is towards American Samoa, and that area was the hardest hit.

Speaking to another couple that have a resort out towards the east, they were up at six. The earthquake shook at about 10 to seven, and they saw the whole water recede out. And within five minutes the surge had come back in four big massive waves, one after the other. And luckily there's some higher ground where they yelled out to their guests - get to higher ground, get to higher ground - which they did.

But him and his partner were not so fortunate and they had to cling on to dear life in their home, as the waves there washed through. But fortunately they made it and they're okay now, but they've lost their resort. But not so much for the poor people along the coast.

Kids were walking along the main road going to school. Workers were getting up, trying to catch transportation at the time to come to work. And that's the area that's mostly hardest hit and that's total destruction there - total destruction.

MONTAGNE: Thank you for speaking with us about this.

Mr. PAUL: You're most welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Maposua Norman Paul speaking to us from Samoa.

This is NPR News.

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