Eye witness: 'We watched our restaurant flout out to sea'

Chris and Wendy Booth fell in love with the South Pacific island nation of Samoa in 1996. Ten years later, they left their native Australia to open a beachside resort, Sea Breeze, there. Yesterday, they were almost washed away when giant waves crashed into the main island, Upolu, following a massive offshore earthquake.

Their resort was destroyed, but they count themselves lucky. At least 100 people died in Samoa, the neighbouring US territory of American Samoa and the country of Tonga, to the south, in the Pacific's worst tsunami for more than a decade.

Entire villages were flattened along Upolu's southern shore, which is also Samoa's main tourist area. In American Samoa, where the main industry is tuna canning, workers at a factory in the capital, Pago Pago, said they had only three minutes' warning before waves up to 30ft high struck the main island, Tutuila. At least 30 people are confirmed dead in the territory.

The headquarters of the National Park were wiped out, according to the park superintendent, Mike Reynolds, who called colleagues in California while sheltering under a coconut tree.

Joey Cummings, a radio broadcaster in American Samoa who was interviewed by US television, said the tsunami produced a destructive, muddy river that swept away trees, boulders, cars and boats. "If you have a building and it wasn't made out of concrete, it doesn't exist any more," he said. "You just have... debris strewn all over the place. It looks like a bomb went off."

The quake, which lasted several minutes and had an epicentre 125 miles south-west of Samoa, struck just before 7am. Six or seven minutes later, the first tsunami roared ashore. Then came another.

Mrs Booth told Australia's Fairfax Radio Network: "The second wave hit and came up through the floor, pushed out the back door and threw us outside... We managed to hang on to a handrail. My husband and I just hung on to each other... The furniture was pushed with the ferocity of the wave through the ceiling."

Mr Booth added: "Our restaurant just floated out to sea, complete, until it smashed up in the water."

The earthquake sparked a Pacific-wide tsunami alert, with Hawaii, Japan and New Zealand hit by smaller, harmless waves.

In Samoa, which was immortalised by Robert Louis Stevenson, Susili Dusi was among those jolted awake by the quake. As the walls of her house shook, she and her family ran outside to find the trees shaking, too, and they fled to higher ground.

Others were not so swift. Although sirens sounded and tsunami alerts were broadcast on the radio, some survivors complained that they received no warning. After the ground stopped moving, said one woman, who gave her name only as Ngutu, "everyone was just walking around normal... curious about what was going to happen".

Then, she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a wave "tall as the sky" smashed into her village, Ulutogia. "Everyone just started running inland towards the hills, running for our lives." In the mountains, young men banged gas canisters to alert those down below.

Samoa is considered one of the best prepared countries in the quake-prone region, but "if things happen so quickly, there's not a lot you can do", Peter Muller, the regional disaster response adviser to the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told The Independent.

As the US, Australia and New Zealand prepared to send aid to the region, emergency workers collected coconuts to provide survivors with food and water. The capital, Apia, was evacuated and a maritime surveillance plane sent by New Zealand searched for survivors off the coast.

The death toll is expected to rise, with bodies hidden by sand that was thrown on to the shore by the waves. People were also swept out to sea.

Hundreds were injured and thousands made homeless by the disaster, which levelled at least 20 villages on Upolu, including Lepa, the home of Samoa's Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

"So much has gone. So many people are gone," Mr Malielegaoi said. "I'm so shocked, so saddened by all the loss."

Suggested Topics
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain