A TOWERING tsunami sparked by an early morning earthquake have devastated Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga, killing at least 142 people and leaving thousands displaced.
Papua New Guinea was among many countries across the Pacific placed on tsunami alert after the earthquake on Tuesday (yesterday morning in PNG) but was fortunate to escape the effects of the giant waves.
The warnings were later cancelled.
PNG Natural Disaster Centre logistics adviser Andrew Oaego said yesterday that there had been no reports of damage to PNG’s outer islands.
“We’ve advised the regions possibly affected to maintain a look-out and to report anything but there have been no reports of a tsunami hitting our shores,” Mr Oaego said.
The quake, with a magnitude between 8.0 and 8.3, struck between Samoa and American Samoa at 6.48am on Tuesday local time (3.48 am PNG time yesterday) and locals said it lasted up to three minutes.
Eyewitnesses said that over the next 20 minutes, four giant walls of water, between 3m and 9m high, pounded the shore, wiping out villages and shattering holiday resorts.
One hospital in Apia said it had received 79 bodies, with the death toll so far put at 113.
At least 22 were dead in American Samoa and seven were confirmed dead in Tonga.
The toll was expected to rise with many bodies yet to be retrieved.
A Tasmanian woman, horse trainer Maree Blacker, 50, was confirmed dead along with a six-year-old girl.
A 56-year-old woman from Victoria was also killed but the Department of Foreign Affairs did not release her name last night.
A two-and-a-half-year-old girl from New Zealand with Australian permanent residency has also been confirmed dead. Six Australians are in hospital but the exact number of Australians injured is in a state of flux.
Grave fears are held for one Australian while another six Australians in the affected area are unaccounted for.
Most of the 20 villages on the southern side of the main Samoan island of Upolu have been levelled.
Samoan prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said he was “shocked beyond belief” by the devastation.
Villages were wiped out, buildings were toppled, and thousands of people fled to higher ground after the offshore quake struck, followed by giant waves which swept cars out to sea.
“So much has gone. So many people are gone,” a distressed PM Malielegaoi said of the “unimaginable” tragedy as he flew from Auckland to the Samoan capital of Apia.
“I’m so shocked, so saddened by all the loss.”
Malielegaoi said his own village of Lepa had been decimated.
“Thankfully, the alarm sounded on the radio and gave people time to climb to higher ground,” he said.
“But not everyone escaped.”
Two sick children who were en route to hospital for flu treatment were swept away in flood waters.
“Their car was just taken away,” the prime minister said.
Two of the country’s most popular resorts, Sinalei Reef Resort and Coconuts Beach Resort, off the west coast of the main island of Upolu, had been hit hard.
Joe Annandale, owner of the Sinalei Resort and regional mayor of the ravaged south coast, lost his wife Tui. Her body was found washed up in a tree after she tried to help some children.
Apia was evacuated as officials scrambled to get thousands of residents to higher ground, where they remained huddled hours after the quake.
Witnesses said cars were swept out to sea in American Samoa, where buildings in the capital of Pago Pago were destroyed in what the US territory’s Congress delegate said was a scene of “devastation”.
Australia, New Zealand and the United States led immediate pledges of assistance. – AAP