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Pacific tsunami: Aid efforts begin in Samoa

As the US prepared to dispatch emergency relief to American Samoa, Australia and New Zealand focused their aid efforts on Samoa.

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In American Samoa, as in Samoa, officials suspect that the death toll will rise. The headquarters of the National Park of American Samoa in Pago Pago were destroyed, according to Mike Reynolds, the park's superintendent, who spoke to colleagues in California while sheltering under a coconut tree.

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As the US prepared to dispatch emergency relief to American Samoa, Australia and New Zealand focused their aid efforts on Samoa, with several military planes standing by. At least two Australians, a New Zealander, and a Briton have died, while the nation of Tonga, to the south, has reported at least seven deaths. Across the Pacific, hundreds were injured and thousands made homeless.

Worst tsunami to hit Pacific islands in a decade

While yesterday's scenes were dramatic – villages flattened, cars sucked out to sea, a boat washed up by the side of the road – the disaster was nowhere near the scale of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 230,000 people. But it was the worst to hit the Pacific since a tidal wave claimed 3,000 lives in Papua New Guinea in 1998. In Java, Indonesia, in 2006, more than 300 people died in a tsunami.

On Wednesday, a magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck near the Indonesian city of Padang, causing severe damage, but no tsunami.

Unfortunately, says Peter McCawley, a regional development expert at the Australian National University in Canberra, experience with previous disasters does not make international relief efforts faster or more efficient.

"Every disaster is different and throws up different logistical problems," he says. "The key thing is for people at the local level to be prepared. That's more important than the international response."

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