Asia-Pacific disasters leave trail of death and destruction

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 01 2009 01:12 AM | Updated as of Oct 01 2009 04:29 PM

Battered by typhoon, floods, quakes, tsunami within days

HONG KONG - Nature's destructive power was bared to deadly effect this week with massive flooding in Southeast Asia, tsunamis that deluged the Samoan islands and a huge earthquake on Sumatra island.

Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were the latest countries to be lashed by Typhoon Ketsana as it continued a rampage that began in the Philippines, killing over 330 people and forcing millions to flee their submerged homes.

As outside powers geared up to help, disaster struck again further east when a powerful 8.0-magnitude undersea quake unleashed tsunamis on the vulnerable Pacific islands of Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga.

At least 113 people were killed, including foreigners from Australia, Britain and South Korea, as waves 25 feet (7.5 metres) high wiped out villages, flattened tourist resorts and sent people scurrying for high ground.

Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said he was "shocked beyond belief."

"So much has gone. So many people are gone," he told the Australian news agency AAP.

US President Barack Obama called the incident in the outlying US territory of American Samoa a "major disaster" and offered Samoans his "deepest sympathies".

He also dispatched troops for the aid effort in the Philippines, a former American colony.

With the Philippines reeling from once-in-a-lifetime floods that have inundated Manila, officials in the mainly Catholic country urged people to pray for deliverance from a new menace lurking to the east, Typhoon Parma.

Yet more disaster hit in Indonesia Wednesday, when a 7.6-magnitude quake rocked the island of Sumatra, killing at least 75 people and trapping thousands under rubble.

Large buildings including hospitals and hotels caved in, while fires raged in the coastal city of Padang, home to nearly a million people, and outside rescuers struggled to reach the scene.

The early death toll looked set to rise dramatically, said officials.

"Maybe more than 1,000... because so many buildings and houses have been damaged," said Health Ministry Crisis Centre head Rustam Pakaya

Rescue teams and doctors sent overland were expected in the city on Thursday morning, Pakaya said.

Frightened office workers streamed out into the streets as tremors were felt in Jakarta, 940 kilometres (580 miles) away, and in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

As Washington grappled with a situation in American Samoa that evoked memories of Hurricane Katrina, the string of Asia-Pacific disasters highlighted pitiful defences in some nations and underlying worries about global warming.

In flood-hit Vietnam, the head of the Red Cross in the city of Danang, Phan Nhu Nghia, described aid efforts as "very, very difficult, even with a greater mobilisation from the soldiers and the police, because the scale of the flooding is too vast and we lack equipment".

"We have not received any support from local authorities," a 28-year-old mother of twin toddlers complained to AFP in Vietnam's Quang Nam province.

She described local residents having to wade into flood waters in search of clean water and supplies of instant noodles. "My house has been flooded since last night," said the woman, huddling with a group of women, children and the elderly.

Away from the immediate mayhem, the Philippines' chief negotiator at climate talks in Bangkok, Heherson Alvarez, said he hoped Ketsana had driven home "the sense of urgency" in global talks to alleviate climate change.

"Tropical storm Ketsana is clearly a manifestation of the consequences of global inaction in addressing the immediate impacts of creeping climate change," he said.