Quick-thinking Samoan staff helped save the lives of dozens of tourists when the tsunami hit, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says.
At least 176 people – among them seven New Zealanders and five Australians – were killed when the giant wave smashed into the south coast of Samoa last week.
Key, who visited the devastated areas on Saturday, said the earthquake that caused the tsunami shook the resort of Sinalei for about three minutes.
“They had no advice about a tsunami but they noticed the waves and the water receding,” he told a news conference.
“They immediately got people out of their fales (huts) to the extent where they actually knocked and then broke down the doors of some of them.
“They dragged those people up the hill and within minutes the resort was washed away.
“If they hadn’t acted so quickly I think there would have been dozens more New Zealanders killed.”
At the time there were 38 people at the resort, most of them New Zealanders.
The official death toll in Samoa and Tonga stood at 135, with 310 casualties, Key said.
The number of New Zealanders confirmed dead stood at seven, with one toddler missing, presumed dead, he said.
New Zealand now had 160 military and medical personnel in Samoa.
Infectious-disease specialists also left on Monday morning and grief counsellors were also on their way.
Key said the New Zealand cabinet would soon discuss the extent of future financial aid to Samoa and Tonga.
“We have an aid budget of around $NZ500 million ($415 million) … there’s plenty of capacity within that for one-off emergency relief and that’s where it will come from.
“We have enormous confidence in the way the Samoans and Tongans are handling the situation.
“We have real confidence that if we put New Zealand cash into the system, they will be able to make sure it is effectively managed.”