Tonga Samoa Earthquake Tsunami: Samoa American Somoa Earthquake

A 7.6-8.0 magnitude earthquake hit the Tonga Region affecting Samoa and American Samoa at 6:48 a.m. Samoa time today. Tsunami warnings issued for Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Niue, Kermadec Islands, and American Samoa have been cancelled. Update 9-30-09 10-1-09 10-4-09 – New Video

People were swept out to sea, boats washed ashore and people survived by fleeing to higher ground. There is an incredible Getty photo that may or may not depict activity during this event. You can take a look here, and then let me know if you think someone actually snapped this shot during the the earthquake.

This report from the National Parks Traveler, written by Kurt Repanshek, said “nearly three dozen islanders were killed and the tsunami demolished the headquarters and visitor center of the Park. Mr. Repanshek said reports indicate that “five waves [one as high as 30 feet] battered the park’s building in the capital of Pago Pago:

Our park superintendent (Mike Reynolds) was in the building when the first wave hit. That was early in the morning. He and this other staffer, (Ranger) Sarah Bone, ran out of the building and up hill, and made a call to our Honolulu office,” Holly Bundock, assistant regional director for communications in the Park Service’s Pacific West office, said Tuesday afternoon. “The last report was five waves and one as high as 30 feet.”

So reports differ about damage and casualities. Here’s what I’ve found:

*) Island of Niuatoputatu (bordering Somoa) – 10 confirmed dead

*) Samoa and American Samoa – at least 14 people reported dead, and he death toll is expected to rise.

*) Villages destroyed on Samoa and American Samoa – 36, at least.

One witness said the wall of water was up to 30 feet (nine metres) high, and a local journalist told AFP entire villages had been wiped out on Samoa’s south and southwest coasts where thousands of people live.

For a fascinating tsunami story, here’s snippet from National Geographic News:

Scientists have found traces of an asteroid-collision event that they say would have created a giant tsunami that swept around the Earth several times, inundating everything except the tallest mountains 3.5 billion years ago. The coastline of the continents was changed drastically and almost all life on land was exterminated. (Read the story.)

This report says that the quake was a “shallow earthquake,” and that there were “no immediate reports of damage or death,” which conflicts with the report from the National Park Traveler and others. In the video below you’ll see an explanation of why a “shallow earthquake” is usually more dangerous than a deep earthquake. I will have updates here of the Tonga and Somoa Earthquake and Tsunamis.

Earthquake Tsunami (video)

Tonga Samoa Tsunami – New video

Update 9-30-09:
The second video is new.
Interesting tidbit. “Survivor” was filed on Somoa this summer. While the recent earthquake and tsunami did not effect the cast or crew, as production has ended, this is an interesting read.

The death toll is believed to be 99. Additional dead are expected. Many are reported still missing.

A “river of mud” carried trees, cars, buses and boats past his building, which is practically at sea level, Cummings told the BBC.
Some people searched for trapped survivors, he said, but others looted stores. Bodies were stacked in the back of pickup trucks, he added.


The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said three Australians were among the dead. The British Foreign Office said one Briton was missing and presumed dead.

New Zealander Graeme Ansell said the Samoan beach village of Sau Sau Beach Fale was leveled.

“It was very quick. The whole village has been wiped out,” Ansell told New Zealand’s National Radio from a hill near Apia. “There’s not a building standing. We’ve all clambered up hills, and one of our party has a broken leg. There will be people in a great lot of need ’round here.”

Update 10-1-09:
The U.S. Geological Service reports ANOTHER earthquake in the Samoa area today, October 1, 2009, at a magnitude of 6.3 quake and a depth of 6.2 miles off Tonga. The good news is that there were no “immediate” reports of damage. This report comes at 8:39 CDT.

According to this report, the death toll in Somoa has reached 115, (AP reports 120 just minutes ago) with more expected. Estimates are that 32,000 persons in Samoa have been affected by the earthquake and tsunami in some way. The Prime Minister of Samoa, who lost two of his own family members when their “vehicle was washed away by the big waves,” said the following on the 29th:

“Much debris had covered some of the bodies and also some had been carried away for distances to be thrown back into coast or bushes. Some of the villages had complete destruction, all the houses had been destroyed.”

In the village of Saleapaga approximately 30 people died from crashing waves. About 10 minutes elapsed between the earthquake and the tsunami. This little village had no warning of the coming waters.

This from a school teacher in Samoa:

New Zealand school teacher Charlie Pearse choked back tears as she spoke to New Zealand’s TV One News from an Apia hospital bed in Samoa, recalling how she was trapped underwater and thought she was going to die.

She was in the back of a truck trying to outrun the tsunami with about 20 children when a wave tossed the truck and it landed on top of them. “We all went under the water and I think a number of the children died instantly,” Pearse said

A “government minister” believes mass burials must be carried out and he has approached families for permission.

This report says the death toll in American Samoa is expected to reach fifty as rescue efforts are still under way. The AP report linked above says 31 are known dead. America Samoa is said to have 169 injured, some in serious condition and hospitalized. 1900 people are said to be residing in 8 government-run shelters. Rumors are that other tsunamis might be on the way. Some are staying on higher ground – still too afraid to try to go back to their homes. A census is being taken in an effort to account for citizens and aid efforts to locate the missing.

A spokesman for an area hospital says American Samoa does not have a warning siren system.

In this area, the tsunami arrived about 45 minutes after the earthquake. Many did not flee to higher ground.

At this time, parts of the Eastern island remain without power or water and emergency workers are on the scene. The power plant for Eastern American Samoa on Tutuila may not be operation for “at least a month.” Fuel facilities in American Samoa were not damaged. The petroleum officer for American Samoa said some areas on Tutuila “look like a war zone.”

Some villages are gone, I mean, you talk about villages that had elementary schools, and early childhood development schools, they’re gone. Either the fish [are] enjoying the luxury of the facilities or the structures are no longer fit for people to live in.”

American Samoa

He reports looting of retail establishments:

A retailer in American Samoa has condemned as disgusting the rampant looting that followed the tsunami.

A retailer in American Samoa has condemned as disgusting the rampant looting that followed the tsunami.

In the Tongan area, 9 persons died on the island of Niuatoputapu when the tsunami hit. The island is said to be “devastated.” The island population ranges from 1300-1600.

“The priority now is the bedding and clothing, and water will be the next one, but as I said with the report from there, not the fresh coconut only but the next village the water supply is alright.”

At this time, Niuatoputapu has “food, shelter and medicine.” For information on other islands in the Tongan area, see here.

Professor John McCloskey, a geophyscicist at the University of Ulster says it is not likely that the Indonesia Ring of Fire earthquake and the Tonga-Somao earthquakes are related.

The distance between the quakes — 10,000km (6,200 miles) —and the orientation of the tectonic plates made a causal link physically implausible, he said.

Early estimates suggest that the Sumatra quake occurred about 50 miles beneath the Earth’s crust, so deep that there was little or no movement on the ocean floor, and no resultant tsunami.

For information on the Indonesia Earthquake September 2009: Ring of Fire Indonesian Quake September 30th, 2009 see here.

Update 10-4-09:
Five days after Tsunami waves hit Samoa, some residents are still sheltered on higher ground and refuse to return to their homes.

In Samoa 135 are reported dead, and 8 missing.

The death toll for Somoa, American Samoa and Tonga is now 176 with 12-total still missing and feared dead.

“In a few weeks, we will see many people sick with gastroenteritis and diarrhoea. That will affect the young and the elderly. Deaths are inevitable,” he told reporters.

“There are concerns with sanitation, and clean water is much needed,” she told AFP. “We are already hearing some news of gastroenteritis and diarrhoea outbreaks, and there is a high potential likelihood of emerging diseases.”
Mauala estimated up to 3,000 people lost their homes in the tsunami, with most now living with family and friends, many overcrowding existing houses.
Others are camping out in school buildings or living in crude homes under tarpaulins or tents in plantations and refusing to return to their traditional coastal settlements, Rosemarie North of the Samoa Red Cross said.

Relief workers cite problems getting emergency supplies to residents who have moved inland to shelters – some saying they will not move back to the coast.

Paneta Sagale Lauiliu, who lost his mother in the tragedy, said his family would abandon its seaside home in favour of higher ground.

“We have no intention of moving back down,” he told AFP from a camp an hour’s walk from the coast. “There’s no way we’re going back to the beach and I don’t think anyone else in our village will do that.”

Lauiliu, whose four-year-old son Sepi was swept up by the tsunami and survived by clinging to a banana tree, said his family was considering abandoning its beach hut rental business.