Page last updated at 09:23 GMT, Saturday, 3 October 2009 10:23 UK

Witness tells of island tsunami

Devastation in Pago Pago village, American Samoa, 30 Sept
Scenes of devastation in Pago Pago in American Samoa

A Welsh woman working in American Samoa has told how she thought the ground would open after an earthquake and then a tsunami hit the island.

Alice Lawrence, originally from Llanbedrog near Pwllheli, Gwynedd, was in her home getting ready for work when the quake struck.

Meanwhile a rescue team from Wales is flying to Sumatra in Indonesia, which has been hit by a 7.6 magnitude quake.

More than 1,000 people have died and thousands are thought to be trapped.

Speaking from American Samoa where 31 people are believed to have died in the quake and tsunami there, Ms Lawrence said she felt lucky her home is on higher ground after colleagues at her harbour-side office told how they were lucky to escape with their lives.

Some victims were caught out by the sheer speed of events she added. "It was like a car coming, but then when I got outside it went on for a really long time, and got stronger... it was so bad I thought the ground would open," she said.

Speaking on BBC Radio Cymru's Post Cyntaf programme Ms Lawrence, who works for the American Samoa Government's Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, said she was preparing to leave for work in Pago Pago when the earthquake struck the island.

Tsunami damage in Pago Pago, American Samoa
Someone said [on the radio] 'there's a car being carried past our window by the water and we're on the second floor', then the radio went off
Alice Lawrence, witness

After the quake passed Ms Lawrence said she spoke to her neighbour and mentioned her concern about a possible tsunami as a result of the earthquake.

"She told me 'that does not happen here', and took her children to school."

Ms Lawrence said she was listening to the radio when someone rang the station to say the sea had gone out.

"Then there was panic, and then someone said [on the radio] 'there's a car being carried past our window by the water and we're on the second floor', then the radio went off."

As her home is on higher ground Ms Lawrence said she did not realise the extent of the devastation at first.

"Down by the harbour, where our office is, people arrived at work and saw the water go down by about 10 inches.

"They realised what was happening and just tried to get into their cars to get out."

She added that local people did not think they were in danger because there had not been a tsunami in the area for around 60 years, and the last one was not very serious.

Anticipation and trepidation because you don't know what you're going to see and find
Steve Ellery, firefighter

"They have had drills here, and there are signs saying 'tsunami area', with advice to aim for higher ground if there is an earthquake.

"But after saying that there was only around 13 minutes from the end of the earthquake to when the water came in, so there wasn't a lot of time," she added.

Anna and Christopher Griffiths, originally from Pembrokeshire but currently living in Auckland, New Zealand, were also caught up in the tsunami while staying in Samoa to celebrate their 30th birthdays.

They recalled scrambling up a hill to flee with "two lines of white water absolutely powering" at them.

Mrs Griffiths told a newspaper: "I can't sleep, I haven't slept, because I can still hear that roar. I can constantly hear it."

'Save lives'

The Welsh rescue team is part of the UK Department for International Development's offer of help to the region.

Shaun Moody, a station manager with South Wales Fire and Rescue Service at Malpas, said the team was "very motivated" to go out to save lives.

He said that across the team there were a "lot of skills", which could be utilised for "difficult access rescues".

Steve Ellery, a firefighter from Port Talbot, who is on his first international deployment, said there was a "buzz of anticipation and trepidation because you don't know what you're going to see and find".

"The training kicks in... but of course you are going to come across something you've never done before, but you just adapt your skills and try to save lives," he added.

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