APIA, Samoa – Convoys of military vehicles brought food, water and medicine to the tsunami-stricken Samoas on Thursday as victims wandered through what was left of their villages with tales of being trapped underwater, watching young children drown and hoisting elderly parents above the waves.
The death toll rose to 160 as grim-faced islanders gathered under a traditional meetinghouse to hear a Samoan government minister discuss a plan for a mass funeral and burial next Tuesday. Samoans traditionally bury their loved ones near their homes, but that could be impractical because many of their villages have been wiped out.
The dead from Tuesday’s earthquake and tsunami include 120 in Samoa, 31 in American Samoa and nine in Tonga. Samoan police commander Lilo Maiava said the search for bodies could continue another three weeks.
Doctors and nurses were sent to devastated villages, and a refrigerated freight container was being used as a temporary morgue for the scores of bodies showing up at a Samoan hospital. About 200 people camped inside the Mormon church in Leone, one of the hardest hit villages in American Samoa.
The United States, Australia and New Zealand sent in supplies and troops, including a U.S. Navy frigate carrying two helicopters that will be used in search-and-rescue efforts. The Hawaii Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force flew three cargo planes to American Samoa that carried 100 Navy and Army guard personnel and reservists.