Today marks 14 years since the deadly tsunami


On September 29, 2009, two large earthquakes struck midway between Samoa and American Samoa, a U.S. territory. Today marks 14 years since this devastating event. 

The earthquakes generated tsunami waves of up to 22 meters (72 feet) that engulfed the shores, Samoa suffered the worst with 149 deaths, while American Samoa and Tonga lost 31 and nine lives, respectively.

The devastation extended beyond human casualties, with houses destroyed, cars swept out to sea, and some villages virtually annihilated. With over $200 million in damages, the islands were physically and economically ravaged.

The deadly 2009 tsunami was triggered by at least two separate earthquakes occurring within 2–3 minutes of each other near the Tonga Trench, one of the most seismically active areas in the world, which was an extremely rare event known as a “doublet.” 

Since the earthquakes occurred so close in time, scientists have been unable to distinguish which earthquake occurred first or which caused a bigger tsunami. However, the events of September 29 involved a magnitude 8.1 earthquake on a normal fault within the outer rise; and the other magnitude 8.0 earthquake occurred on the subduction zone as a thrust event.