SALT LAKE CITY -- The death toll in Samoa from Tuesday's tsunami continues to rise. On Wednesday we received the first glimpses of destruction on the Samoan islands.
Locally, families are having an easier time contacting relatives living in Samoa, but the news often is discouraging. Many are keeping phone calls short because it's not possible to charge cell phones in Samoa right now. The message they're hearing: We need help.
Utah resident Senerita Auvaa was raised in the America Samoan village of Tula. The beach community has about 100 homes, and on Wednesday she learned from a nephew that all but one were destroyed.
"It's very hard, and it's been very hard to hold back emotions," Auvaa says. "It was early morning and children were being dropped off by buses. Teachers and principals were just telling them, ‘Run! Run to the mountain!'"
Her family had 30 to 40 minutes warning and didn't stop to pack anything, just headed on foot to higher ground where they are now camping and waiting for help.
"So far, no casualties," Auvaa says. "Everyone is OK. The only problem is water."
The Red Cross says drinking water, food and shelter are main concerns right now. Volunteers have been answering constant phone calls all day from people asking what they can do to help.
"The best thing people can do is make a donation. You can donate online or you can call your local chapter," says Susan Thomas, spokeswoman for the Utah Red Cross. [CLICK HERE to find out how you can donate]
Trained Red Cross volunteers from Utah are on standby. As soon as they can get a seat on a plane, they'll head to Samoa.
Volunteers from other states are already on the ground. News of so many wanting to assist is information Auvaa has already passed on.
"That's all we can tell them is help is coming," Auvaa says.
As for people trying to learn if relatives are OK, the Red Cross has a section on their website called Safe and Well. You can search for friends and family there by name, phone number and address.
And Wednesday night, the First Congregational Christian Church of Samoa is holding a special service for victims of the earthquake and tsunami. The service begins at 6:30 at 8574 W. 8700 S. in Magna, UT.
Meanwhile, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is assessing the situation to determine how it will respond to the disaster. A spokesman says all but two missionaries have been accounted for--the exception being two local sister missionaries on an island that no one is able to contact at this time. [CLICK HERE for more details on the Church's response]
Catholic Relief Services is also working to send aid to Samoa and other South Pacific islands affected by recent earthquakes. If you would like to help, you can contact the organization by phone at 1-877-HELP-CRS or online at www.crs.org.
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