A massive emergency effort was underway Wednesday in the Samoan Islands after a tsunami killed more than 100 people and erased entire villages, officials said.
Three 5-foot tsunamis were triggered by a magnitude 8 earthquake that hit the South Pacific islands Tuesday.
Officials said at least 113 people were confirmed dead, including 22 people killed in American Samoa, 84 in Samoa, and seven in Tonga, CNN reported.
Officials said they feared the death toll could rise as rescue workers began reaching outlying areas.
“I thought it was the end of the world,” said Dr. Salamo Laumoli, health services director at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Tropical Medical Center in American Samoa. “I have never felt an earthquake like that before.”
President Barack Obama Tuesday declared a major disaster exists in the territory. The declaration orders federal aid to help local recovery efforts in the aftermath of the event, and makes federal funding available to affected individuals on American Samoa, the White House said.
“I am closely monitoring these tragic events, and have declared a major disaster for American Samoa, which will provide the tools necessary for a full, swift and aggressive response,” Obama said in a statement Wednesday. “We also stand ready to help our friends in Samoa and the region. Going forward, we will continue to provide the resources necessary to respond to this catastrophe, and we will keep those who have lost so much in our thoughts and prayers.”
A U.S. Defense Department official said 75 members of the Hawaii National Guard were ordered to American Samoa to begin helping with medical relief, search-and-rescue operations and provide communications capabilities on the island.
The U.S. Coast Guard delivered humanitarian aid and more than 20 officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to American Samoa, John Hamill, FEMA external affairs officer in Oakland, Calif., said. The team includes debris experts, housing experts, members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other disaster relief specialists, he said.