UPDATE: Tsunami in the Pacific

[PeterPaul.ca] — A major relief and recovery operation is underway following a magnitude 8.0 earthquake that triggered a deadly tsunami in the Pacific Ocean near the Samoan Islands on Tuesday.

The United Nations [UN] confirmed that 62 people have died in Samoa, six others on the Tongan island of Niuatoputa. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon released a statement sending his “condolences to the families of those who have been killed, injured or rendered homeless.”

In Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, “there are unconfirmed reports of 19 fatalities,” the UN said.

U.S. President Barack Obama declared American Samoa a disaster zone on Tuesday, clearing the way for federal aid to flow into the battered region.

“Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in the earthquake and tsunami in American Samoa and the region. I am closely monitoring these tragic events, and have declared a major disaster for American Samoa, which will provide the tools necessary for a full, swift and aggressive response,” a statement from the president said.

More than 15,000 others were directly affected in the aftermath, the Samoan Red Cross said. More than 6o villages in Samoa reported damages. Volunteers are “currently distributing clean water, first aid supplies, tarpaulins and other relief to impacted individuals and families,” the relief agency said.

New Zealand has committed a P3 Orion from its air force to help with the coastal search for additional victims. One New Zealander was confirmed dead on Tuesday.

A chartered aircraft from Australia arrived in the disaster zone on Wednesday, carrying medical experts and much needed medical supplies.

Australia has pledged an initial $2 million dollars in aid. Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said his government is prepared to offer more aid as it becomes needed.

Two Australians was killed during Tuesday’s earthquake, several others were in hospital, the Brisbane Times and ABC News reported.

The Australian Red Cross said it has already received over $100,000 in private donations.

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