As relief efforts continued in the tsunami-devastated Samoas, moving tales of survival emerged, including that of an elderly man hoisted above the churning waters by his son and of a group of surfers who rode out the giant waves.
At least 169 people have been confirmed dead in Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga after a massive earthquake this week triggered tidal waves that obliterated coastal villages. The quake was followed by a series of aftershocks, the largest of which, measuring 6.3 in magnitude, struck south of Tonga Thursday.
On Samoa's main island, Upolu, which was worst hit, Faaolaina Kalolo escaped the towering walls of water by fleeing to a taro plantation in the hills. He heard his dogs barking and saw them running away from the ocean. "If the dogs run to safety, you follow. You run," he told Reuters.
Twenty seconds to run
A New Zealand couple, Joseph Bursin and Nicky Fryar, whose beachfront resort was destroyed, said their sandals were slipping off as they scrambled up a steep, rock-covered hill and over a mud-filled lagoon. "We had 15 or 20 seconds before the water came in beneath us," Bursin told Associated Press. "There were people behind us who didn't make it and were taken by the water."
Another tourist, Melissa Coulter, described to the AP how her brother lifted their elderly disabled father above the waves and held him aloft. Their mother, meanwhile, was "just swimming for her life," colliding with smashed cars, an icebox and broken roofing.
More than two days after the disaster, rescue workers have given up on looking for survivors. Assisted by personnel and equipment from the United States, New Zealand, and Australia, they are concentrating efforts on recovering bodies. A New Zealand Air Force Orion scoured Upolu's debris-strewn southern coastline Thursday, looking for those swept out to sea.
Forgoing tradition for mass burials
The Samoan authorities face the grim task of burying the dead, and have asked bereaved relatives to allow them to hold a mass funeral. In Samoa, as elsewhere in the Pacific, it is customary for people to bury loved ones near their homes. But many homes no longer exist.
Rob Atkinson, an Australian surgeon who has joined the relief effort, said there was a danger of untreated wounds becoming infected. "We're seeing a lot of lacerations, tiny cuts everywhere, going in all directions, thanks to the sharp rocks and coral," he told Australian Associated Press.
New Zealand's Dominion Post reported that a group of surfers, including a student, Chris Nel, escaped death by lying on their boards and riding out the waves. As the sea was sucked out and then surged into shore, they struggled to avoid being hurled onto the beach. "It was pretty scary," said Nel.
Meanwhile, a Samoan woman whose two-day-old baby survived the disaster has named him "Tsunami."
While some locals have already begun clearing debris in preparation for rebuilding their homes, others, still sheltering in the hills, say they are frightened to return to the coast.
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