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Tsunami warning renews panic in Samoa

Thu Oct 8 21:47:26 EST 2009
Thu Oct 8 10:47:26 UTC 2009

APIA, Oct 7 AFP - Samoans relived the terror of last week's deadly tsunami on Wednesday, when three huge quakes in quick succession prompted a Pacific-wide tsunami warning.

Panicking residents caused traffic gridlock in the capital Apia and homeless survivors from last week's devastation fled their makeshift hill camps to run higher up the slopes after hearing of the new warning.

Tipi Autagavaia, a journalist for Radio Polynesia from the village of Satitoa on the south coast of Upolu island, said fear was quickly reignited after last week's horror.

The tsunami on Tuesday last week killed 184 people in Samoa and neighbouring islands and destroyed villages and tourist hotels on the south coast of the most populated island Upolu.

"Everyone was running up the mountains, they ran further than the settlements, you could see the panic and fear was still fresh from what happened," Autagavaia said.

"People didn't care about the distance or the elevation - they just ran."

Nora Solomona from Lalomalava village on the other main Samoan island of Savaii said the new warning was a shock.

"The threat of a tsunami is too real for us to ignore, it's not a joke anymore, I fear for the lives of my children every time this warning will come on."

The scene was similar in Apia, where residents trying to escape in their cars caused gridlock for around half an hour and others ran on foot to nearby hills.

Ten-year-old Yvette Fiamaua Sapatu of the Peace Chapel School in Apia was told by her teacher to run up the nearest hill with the rest of her class.

"It was horrible, everybody was crying. I did not like it, I was scared, because I could have died," she said.

"I was thinking my parents were going to die."

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued an alert after a 7.8 magnitude quake struck off Vanuatu at 9:03am on Thursday (0903 AEDT), followed by two more quakes over 7.0 and other major aftershocks.

Samoa is still coming to terms with last week's tsunami triggered by an 8.0 magnitude quake, which killed 143 people and left six missing on the south coast of Upolu.

Another 32 were killed in neighbouring American Samoa and nine on the northern Tongan island of Niuatoputapu.

In American Samoa, Betty Ahsoon, spokeswoman for American Samoa Homeland Security, said the tsunami warning sparked renewed panic.

"I think they're well aware now whenever the word 'tsunami' comes, they are going to have to run and that's what they did," Ahsoon said.

"Everybody was trying to get as far away as they could from the shoreline."

In Samoa a memorial service will be held in Apia Thursday for the tsunami victims and 10 of them will be buried together at a nearby government cemetery.

Originally at least 100 victims were to be buried in a mass burial but most families have decided to bury their loved ones in family plots.

A special memorial to all the victims will be built and the government has declared a national day of mourning and half day holiday for Thursday.