7 Oct 2009

Aid finally gets to tsunami victims in American Samoa

9:18 pm on 7 October 2009

Tsunami victims in American Samoa began receiving aid on Wednesday after it was discovered supplies had been distributed to people who did not need them.

An 8.0 magnitude earthquake triggered tsunamis in the Pacific last week. The confirmed death toll stood at 183 on Wednesday, including 142 people in Samoa, 32 in American Samoa and nine in Tonga.

Seven people are still missing in Samoa, while two people remain unaccounted for in American Samoa.

The Red Cross said on Wednesday some groups in American Samoa appear to have been hoarding supplies, and those supposed to be distributing supplies to victims have also been taking them.

Red Cross Board chairman Smitty McMoore says normal protocol is that the aid agency enlists the help of the village chief to distribute food and water, but it is now distributing supplies directly.

Meanwhile, Tonga is providing financial aid to its battered neighbours. The Tongan government says the country has links going back 800 years with the Samoas, and it is time to show the true Polynesian spirit of love.

In Samoa, the Ministry of Health says about 700 people still require medical help, Radio New Zealand International reports.

The private Medcen hospital in the capital Apia says it is beginning to treat more patients with sanitation or food-related illnesses, such as diarrhoea and vomiting.

The potential spread of such diseases has been a key concern for health officials.

Three patients were transferred to New Zealand on Wednesday.

NZ aid effort

The New Zealand Defence Force says it now has about 100 people in Samoa, including 18 medics, five engineers and divers who have been searching for bodies and repairing water pipes.

Defence Force squadron leader Kavae Tamariki told Checkpoint on Wednesday divers are continuing to scour a lagoon at Lalomanu filled with debris where they believe bodies may be.

Three Iroquois helicopters are helping to distribute aid to people on Manono Island, while New Zealand Army medics are working from a medical centre in Poutasi. The navy vessel Canterbury is on stand-by in Auckland.

New Zealand Health Minister Tony Ryall says more than 500 health professionals have volunteered to help in Samoa. The Government will continue to supply equipment and medication.

Oxfam New Zealand says efforts to provide water and shelter in Samoa are making good progress, thanks to the response from volunteers.

Dave Neru, an Oxfam water and sanitation engineer, says volunteers have arrived from around the world to help family members and aid organisations.

Mr Neru says three United Nations-led teams are assessing medium and long-term reconstruction needs for Samoa. Each team is made up of six people from church groups, relief organisations and the Samoan government.