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Page last updated at 10:45 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 11:45 UK

Samoa's tsunami death toll rises

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The BBC's Phil Mercer shows the extent of the tsunami devastation

Search teams on Samoa are continuing to find bodies of victims of Tuesday's tsunami, which is confirmed to have killed at least 129 people there.

Another 31 people on neighbouring American Samoa and nine on Tonga were also killed as waves triggered by an earthquake hit villages and resorts.

Officials said they had given up hope of finding survivors and were focusing on the aid and recovery operation.

The government on Samoa is discussing plans for a mass funeral.

The US, New Zealand and Australia have sent in planes carrying soldiers and relief supplies for the tens of thousands of people whose homes were swamped by waves as high as 5m (16ft).

State of shock

Samoa's police commissioner Lilo Maiava told AP news agency that 129 people were now confirmed dead.

The toll was 19 higher than the previous official figure.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

However, Lilo Maiava said that more bodies were being found floating out to sea or buried in the sand and debris.

Some grieving families have already buried their relatives as bodies have begun to quickly decompose in the heat of the South Pacific.

A refrigerated freight container was being used to hold bodies outside a Samoan hospital.

Government minister Fiana Naomi has discussed plans for a mass funeral next week with relatives of victims.

Samoan Prime Minister Tuila'epe Sailele Malielegaoi expressed his grief as he called on his country to rebuild.

"The winds have uttered their strength, earth has spoken its grief and the wave has scattered its strength," he said.

The 8.3-magnitude quake struck at 1748 GMT on Tuesday at a depth of 33km (20 miles), some 190km (120 miles) from Apia on Samoa.

Amateur video footage showed villages destroyed, homes flattened and cars lodged in treetops.

Residents and tourists fled to higher ground as boats were swept inland and cars and people sucked out to sea.

Devastation in Pago Pago village, American Samoa, 30 Sept

Small tsunamis reached areas as far away as New Zealand, Hawaii and Japan.

Some Samoans have begun rebuilding their homes, but others have remained on high ground, afraid to return to the coast.

"People are staying away from devastated villages today," said Oxfam Australia aid worker Janna Hamilton.

"They're still in shock and a lot are not ready to start work again," she told Reuters news agency.

The Red Cross has set up camps for those who have lost their homes, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

US President Barack Obama quickly declared a major disaster in American Samoa, pledging a "swift and aggressive" government response.

The European Union released an initial amount of 150,000 euros (£137,000; $220,000) in aid for the victims, and Australia and New Zealand also pledged assistance.

Map of Pacific islands hit by tsunami


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