"The Wave Has Come"

Death toll keeps rising as aid flows to tsunami-hit Samoas

By Mari Payton and Michelle Wayland
|  Thursday, Oct 1, 2009  |  Updated 7:30 AM PDT
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San Diegan Samoans React to Tsunami News

AP

Towering tsunami waves spawned by a powerful earthquake swept ashore the American Samoa early Tuesday, flattening villages, killing at least 99 people and leaving dozens missing. Here, a pickup truck lies under a pile of rubble from a business structure in Pago Pago.

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San Diegan Samoans React to Tsunami News

San Diego has a big Samoan community, many of whom are still worried about loved ones caught in the catastrophe.
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Police are searching a ghastly landscape of mud-swept streets, pulverized homes and bodies scattered in a swamp in Samoa.

An earthquake and tsunami killed at least 150 on the South Pacific islands of Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. Officials expect the death toll to rise as more areas are searched.

At least 31 people were killed on American Samoa and nine in Tonga by the tsunami Tuesday morning, which occurred after a magnitude 8.0 quake struck off Samoa.

The San Diego American Red Cross is among the agencies working on relief efforts for survivors.

Brenda Epati-Tanoi, a mother of five, works for the Red Cross in American Samoa, but happened to be in San Diego when the quake struck. She was talking to a colleague on the phone when it hit.

“During the conversation, I could hear in the background, the rattling that was taking place, and she gasped. She was panicked and said ‘oh my god, oh my god, it's never been this strong’,” she said.

The quake hit the area where the American Red Cross office in Samoa is located.

“I heard her say… the wave has come,” Epati-Tanoi said.

The tsunami came quickly. Her husband, a school bus driver, was already on the road.

“This wave hit when all the youngsters would have been on the way to go to school by foot or waiting for a bus for school. It's so hard that all the confirmed casualties were with children,” Epati-Tanoi said.

Luckily, her children and husband in Samoa are safe.

A group of San Diego Red Cross volunteers were preparing Thursday to help those in desperate need.

“Some will be doing disaster assessment bulk distribution and shelter,” Lucila Ochoa said. “I’ve dealt with flooding before but not in the amounts we will see there.”

The First Samoan Church on South 45th Street in Southcrest will hold a benefit concert and will be accepting donations this weekend.

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