Former Rockhampton woman Maria Leota took this devastating photo yesterday in Samoa.
Former Rockhampton woman Maria Leota took this devastating photo yesterday in Samoa. Supplied by Maria Leota

Maria a hero in tsunami horror

AS Maria Leota drove through a devastated village in Samoa yesterday someone tried to give her a severed hand to take to hospital.

The former Rockhampton woman apologised to the man and kept driving, only to then hear rescuers had found a pregnant woman buried in sand.

The horror stories kept on coming as Mrs Leota, 38, manoeuvred through the carnage on her way to donate her party hire business's equipment to anyone in need.

Yesterday Mrs Leota spoke about the 8.3 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hurled massive waves at the shores of Samoa and American Samoa, flattening villages and sweeping cars and people out to sea.

Maria LeotaResponding to the destruction she took all her generators and lights to the hospital and set up marquees for police and rescuers - she had already given much-needed blood.

At least 148 people have died in the natural disaster, including four Australians - one a six-year-old child.

Mrs Leota said she woke on Wednesday morning to the earthquake.

She said she thought the house was going to fall and when she looked outside her car was rocking sideways.

“It was a long earthquake, a violent one - it really shook quickly for about 30 seconds,” she said.

“Then the aftershocks kept going for 12 hours and we kept thinking it was going to start again.

“As soon as the earthquake finished I knew there would be a tsunami warning. Mrs Leota immediately decided not to send her son to school.

She then rang all her relatives, who lived in lower areas, and told them to come to her house, which was on higher ground.

“We could hear the siren in town and we waited it out,” she said.

Mrs Leota said she was thankful all her family was safe, except sadly her brother-in-law lost his aunty.

“We went to the disaster zone to look for her house and it was gone - it was completely flat,” she said.

“It just looked like someone got a bulldozer and knocked everything over. It looks worse than what you're seeing on TV.”

Mrs Leota has lived in Samoa for 16 years, after meeting her husband, Sami, at Rockhampton's CQUniversity.

They have two children. Her daughter, Karla, is currently completely year 12 at Heights College and living with her grandfather Don Waterson, the school's principal.

The Red Cross asked Mrs Leota early yesterday for her help.

She owns Ree's Hirage, which hires out cold rooms, tents and chairs, among other things.

She said when she went to set up tents for the hospital she saw the dead Australians lying on the ground with only a sheet over them, as the hospital was full with injured people.

“When I was there six more bodies came in. Two were grown up men and the rest were little babies and children.

“My husband and I are just feeling sick to the stomach.”

Mrs Leota said she will give anything free of charge that she can.

“It's just not right to bill them. Last night I saw a message on the TV asking for blood at the hospital so I got all the family down there to donate.”

Despite being born and bred in Rockhampton, Mrs Leota said she had no plans to return home and loved Samoa too much.

The 26 Australian survivors of the tsunami yesterday returned to Brisbane, with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

Queensland is leading Australia's response, with 20 doctors already in the region and 100 medical, police and rescue personnel on standby for deployment.

A plane with more than 20 tonnes of medical and relief supplies and a 25-bed mobile hospital was set to depart yesterday evening.

The team on stand-by consists of 70 search and rescue personnel, 20 doctors and 20 police victim identification officers.

Premier Anna Bligh yesterday launched the Premier's Department Relief Appeal with a $500,000 donation.

While Samoa has started its recovery, there are early fears the toll could rise well into the thousands after a major earthquake hit off the Sumatran coast of Indonesia less than 18 hours later.

Donations can be made at any major bank, and will be distributed to victims of earthquakes in Samoa and Indonesia and Typhoon Ketsana.

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