|A family paused where a neighbor’s house once stood on Samoa’s southern coast. (Tim Wimborne/Reuters)|
Military searches for bodies in Samoas
LALOMANU, Samoa - The relief effort in the tsunami-stricken Samoas entered its fourth day yesterday as medical teams gave tetanus shots and antibiotics to survivors with infected wounds, and some frightened residents who fled to the hills after the disaster vowed never to return to their decimated seaside villages.
Grieving survivors began to bury their loved ones, while others gathered under a traditional meeting house to hear a government minister discuss plans for a mass funeral and burial next week. Many survivors wore masks to reduce the growing stench of rot.
The death toll from Tuesday’s earthquake and tsunami rose to 169 as searchers found more bodies in Samoa, where 129 were confirmed dead, police commissioner Lilo Maiava told the Associated Press. Thirty-one others were killed in the US territory of American Samoa and nine in Tonga.
Maiava said drowning appeared to be the main cause of death, and some bodies were still being plucked from the sea. Police dug others from sand, mud, and debris. Maiava said the search for bodies could continue for another three weeks.
A refrigerated freight container was used as a temporary morgue for the scores of bodies at a Samoan hospital.
Among the hardest-hit areas was the village of Leone in American Samoa, where four elderly women were swept out to sea as they gathered on the shore to weave Samoan mats and other artifacts.
A 6-year-old girl is also feared dead in the village.
The United States, Australia, and New Zealand sent in supplies and troops, including a US Navy frigate carrying two helicopters for search-and-rescue efforts.
The Hawaii Air National Guard and US Air Force flew three cargo planes to American Samoa carrying 100 Navy and Army guard personnel and reservists.
President Obama called Governor Togiola Tulafono of American Samoa on Thursday to convey his condolences to the families of those killed, the governor said.
“It was nice that he called personally,’’ Tulafono said, adding that he thanked the president for quickly declaring a disaster in the US territory.
Many residents who raced up hillsides as the tsunami closed in remained too scared to return to their villages.
More headed to the hills Wednesday night after an aftershock shook the region.
“It’s a scary feeling, and a lot of them said they are not coming to the coastal area,’’ Red Cross health coordinator Goretti Wulf said near the flattened village of Lalomanu on the devastated south coast of Samoa’s main island, Upolu. “The lesson they learned has made them stay away.’’
Workers at Lalomanu’s makeshift emergency supply base began carting water, food, tarps, and clothes to 3,000 people in the hills.