At 6.48 am on the 29th of September, Samoa was struck by an earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale, centred off 'Upolu's south coast. The quake itself didn't cause much damage but a few minutes later people were scrambling for higher ground as the water drained out beyond the reef – the telltale sign of an imminent tsunami. Three massive waves followed, killing 189 people in Samoa, American Samoa and on the Tongan island of Niuatoputapu. The most deaths occurred on ‘Upolu in Samoa, with over 170 people dead, and over 4000 left homeless.
The tragedy occurred on the less-populated southern side of the island, avoiding even greater loss of life. However, it completely devastated the village of Lalomanu, whose beachside fales were popular with budget travellers, as well as Samoa's swanky south coast resorts. The remainder of Samoa was unaffected.
Despite the disaster, there’s no reason to delay travelling to the Samoan Islands, and certainly no reason to defer travel to Tonga. The vast majority of the places listed in our South Pacific and Samoa & Tonga guidebooks were unaffected and of those that were, some have already reopened.
In Samoa, the exceptions are:
- All of the establishments listed in the Samoa & Tonga guidebook’s Eastern 'Upolu section were affected to various degrees. In Lalomanu, Taufua Beach Fales has reopened and neighbouring Litia Sini's Beach Resort is hoping to be open by the end of 2010. Seabreeze Resort is in the process of being rebuilt.
- Most of the establishments listed in the guidebook’s 'Upolu South Coast section were hit. Sa’moana Resort and Virgin Cove Resort were untouched and have been in continuous operation. Of the others, Coconuts Beach Club Resort has reopened and Sinalei Reef Resort is taking bookings from April 2010.
In American Samoa, the places hardest hit were Leone and Pago Pago, both on Tutila. However, most of Pago Pago's hotels were able to remain open for business throughout.
In Tonga, only the tiny far-northern island of Niuatoputapu was struck. Palm Tree Island Resort was completely devastated but Kalolaine Guesthouse remains open. Nowhere else in the kingdom was affected, and there is no reason to defer travel to Tonga.