Pacific tsunami warning cancelled, Samoa takes brunt

LOS ANGELES/WELLINGTON Tue Sep 29, 2009 6:26pm EDT

1 of 8. Christopher Moore of NOAA looks at computer graphs at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, concerning the earthquake and tsunami that hit American Samoa September 29, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Hugh Gentry

LOS ANGELES/WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Authorities canceled a Pacific tsunami warning on Wednesday after a huge sub-sea quake sent waves over the Samoa islands, reportedly killing about 14 people but falling short of a regional disaster.

Tsunami waves hit American Samoa, a U.S. territory, killing 14 people, and also struck the nearby nation of Samoa, killing an unknown number of people, local media and officials said. There were unconfirmed reports of waves taller than 4 meters (13 ft).

"As of right now, everybody is up in the high mountain ranges," said Senetenari Malele, announcer for local radio station Showers of Blessings. He said the local weather authority had released a statement with 14 dead in the last hour.

In nearby Western Samoa, there were also reports of an unknown number of deaths and houses destroyed, but fears of a devastating ocean-wide tsunami dissolved after the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center canceled its warning for the region.

The warning had been issued three and a half hours earlier after an 8.0 magnitude earthquake off American Samoa.

The 2004 Asian tsunami killed about 230,000 people across 11 countries.

"I can confirm there is damage, I can confirm there are deaths and I can confirm there are casualties," a Western Samoa police spokeswoman said. "I cannot say any more at the moment."

A resident of a Western Samoan coastal village, Theresa Falele Dussey, told Radio New Zealand her house had been destroyed by wave, as were houses and cars in a nearby village.

"Several people have been calling up the radio stations to report high sea swells hitting the costal areas of Fagaloa and Siumu on the eastern side of Upolu island and along to the south," said Samoalive News (www.samoalivenews.com)

"School has been called off for the day with tsunami warnings calling for people to head to higher grounds."

The tsunami caused waves of 5.1 feet above normal sea level off American Samoa, according to the Pacific Western Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, triggering an alert that sent people across the region fleeing for higher ground.

New Zealand authorities expected a wave of about one meter to hit the country's east coast between 2040 GMT (4:40 p.m. EDT) and 2140 GMT (5:40 p.m. EDT).

The Cook Islands and nearby Niue were also on alert but there no immediate reports of damage from either.

The region is home to tens of thousands of islanders living at sea level.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center also canceled a tsunami watch for Hawaii.

(Reporting by Adrian Bathgate and Mantik Kusjanto in Wellington, Michael Perry in Sydney, Rob Taylor in Canberra, Stacey Joyce in Washington, Bud Seba in Houston, Jim Christie in San Francisco, Editing by Frances Kerry and Mark Bendeich)

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