Five days after a deadly earthquake and tsunami slammed into the Samoan Islands, burying parts of the islands under a sea of mud and debris, U.S. agencies continued Saturday helping residents dig out and providing relief to disaster victims.
About 300 responders are on the ground in American Samoa, including personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Health and Human Services, according to those agencies. The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy are continuing transport of supplies to the territory, including meals, water, blankets, tents and medical supplies. “In addition to our efforts in support of the governor of American Samoa, we recognize the significant impact of current disasters in other Pacific regions, including Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in a press release Saturday from FEMA’s Washington headquarters. More than 165 people were killed in the powerful 8.0-magnitude quake and deadly tsunami that struck the Samoan Islands — including the independent nation of Samoa and the U.S. territory of American Samoa — on Tuesday. The death toll in American Samoa stood at 22. “These events remind us how important preparedness and teamwork are to saving lives and ultimately rebuilding communities,” Fugate said. The Samoan national government was planning a ceremony and mass burial for the victims Tuesday, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Malielegaoi said. The prime minister said he toured some hard-hit coastal areas of the island nation and said places once known for their resorts were destroyed. “There is complete devastation of several villages,” Malielegaoi said. “There are families without anything. Everything has been washed away.”
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Those who survived told harrowing tales of outracing the killer wave. British tourists Becky Glew and Helen Wright said they had little warning that a tsunami was heading for the resort where they were staying. “You could hear the wave coming and the noise was deafening. And you could hear buildings crashing,” Glew told CNN affiliate ITN. For areas without electricity on American Samoa, FEMA said it has provided several generators to help supply communities with power. A FEMA press release Saturday also said debris removal planning is under way and recovery specialists, including a housing planning team, are being identified and assembled.