BEIJING — The death tolls from two powerful underwater earthquakes less than a day apart continued to climb early today as residents of the islands of Samoa and the Indonesian island of Sumatra began to dig out from the natural disasters that tore through their cities and villages.
An earthquake that struck western Indonesia on Wednesday killed at least 200 people in the coastal Sumatran city of Padang, according to news reports. Thousands more were believed dead, said Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari, including many trapped in an estimated 500 buildings that toppled or were damaged in the magnitude 7.6 quake.
Jane Liddon, a resident who spoke to Australian radio from Padang, said the city center had been devastated, Reuters news agency reported.
"The big buildings are down," she said. "The concrete buildings are all down, the hospitals, the main markets, down and burned. A lot of people died in there. A lot of places are burning."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, October 02, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Indonesian earthquakes: An article in Thursday's Section A about earthquakes that struck Indonesia this week said the second temblor, a magnitude 6.8 quake that hit Thursday, was centered about 100 miles off the island of Sumatra. It was centered under the island.
Early today, Sumatra was rocked by a second temblor, measuring magnitude 6.8, about 100 miles offshore. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the quake was too close to shore to generate a tsunami.
The Jakarta Post newspaper reported that roads leading to Padang, a city of 900,000, had been cut off by debris but the airport reopened early today.
In Samoa and American Samoa, at least 119 people died after a magnitude 8.0 quake struck at dawn Tuesday, sending four waves, each 15 to 20 feet high, crashing as far as a mile inland, news reports said.
"The earthquake itself was terrifying," said John Newton, 66, of American Samoa. "Then the tsunami came just minutes after. The force it came with was just overwhelming. It destroyed everything in its path."
Newton said a friend in a remote part of the island had died in the disaster. "I don't think anyone here will be untouched by this," he said.
Wooden structures were toppled and the contents of buildings were swept away. Cars were overturned and roads strewn with debris.
The tsunami knocked out one of two power plants in American Samoa, and communications throughout the islands were spotty.
Dennis Famui said he walked outside his hillside home immediately after the earth shook and looked out at the bay at the center of American Samoa's main island.
"A couple minutes after the earthquake, you could see the water draw back and expose the reef and part of the docks," said Famui, 45. "Then the water came back and tossed cars and container boxes and pushed them right back into the bay."
He said the tsunami wasn't a wave that could be spotted from a distance, but a mass of water that rose with steady, destructive force as it neared.
After President Obama declared a major disaster in American Samoa, a U.S. territory of 65,000 inhabitants, the Federal Emergency Management Agency began working with responders in the region.
FEMA said it was sending teams and supplies from Hawaii on a Coast Guard C-130 plane. The airport in the capital, Pago Pago, had to be cleared of debris.
Residents said they were beginning to clean up, but others reported seeing people still in shock.
The Associated Press reported that all 65 employees at the National Park of American Samoa were accounted for.
Six people were confirmed dead in Tonga, south of the Samoa Islands, according to the news service, which cited New Zealand's deputy prime minister, Bill English. He said Tongan officials told him that four people were missing.
In Indonesia, the death toll was expected to rise significantly after the massive quake felled buildings in Padang, Reuters reported. The extent of the damage and the toll outside Padang were unclear.