A tsunami caused by a powerful earthquake off Samoa has flattened at least one village in American Samoa, leaving up to 19 people dead in both island groups.
The quake sparked a tsunami warning for a large swathe of the South Pacific, including parts of New Zealand, although it was later cancelled.
The quake of up to 8.3 magnitude hit at 6.48am Tuesday local time (0348 Wednesday AEST) midway between the two island groups of Samoa and American Samoa.
There were reports of deaths in both American Samoa and Samoa.
New Zealand deputy high commissioner to Apia David Dolphin said at least five people had been killed in Samoa, and local radio KSBS-FM reported 14 deaths in American Samoa.
Anyone concerned about the safety of relatives in either island group is urged to call the DFAT hotline, on 1300 555 135.
There are reports at least three children were killed by the wave in Samoa, the ABC said.
Several Australians are reported to have been injured in the quake and tsunami.
Most of the damage appeared to be centred on the island’s southern coast where waves of six-to-eight metres were recorded.
“There are reports of some quite serious damage, at least five fatalities and quite a few reports of people missing,” said Mr Dolphin, who was on the north coast at the time.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre put the quake’s magnitude at 8.3 and issued a general alert for the South Pacific region, from American Samoa to New Zealand.
It said the tsunami generated by the quake “may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicentre and could also be a threat to more distant coasts”.
Beach villages ‘completely levelled’
The US Geological Service said the quake struck 35km below the ocean floor, 190km from American Samoa and 200km from Samoa.
New Zealander Graeme Ansell said the beach village of Sau Sau Beach Fale in Samoa was levelled.
“It was very quick. The whole village has been wiped out,” Ansell told National Radio from a hill near Samoa’s capital, Apia.
“There’s not a building standing. We’ve all clambered up hills, and one of our party has a broken leg. There will be people in a great lot of need ’round here.”
The powerful quake jolted people awake.
In Apia, families reported shaking that lasted for up to three minutes.
“It was pretty strong; it was long and lasted at least two minutes,” one resident told local radio.
“It’s the strongest I have felt, and we ran outside. You could see all the trees and houses were shaking,” he said.
Residents moved to higher ground
Sulili Dusi told New Zealand’s National Radio that “everything dropped on the floor and we thought the house was going to go down as well. Thank God, it didn’t.” Along with neighbours, they fled to high ground.
Another resident, Dean Phillips, said the southern coast of Upolu island had been struck by the tsunami.
“The police are sending everybody up to high ground,” he said.
Local media said they had reports of some landslides in the Solosolo region of the main Samoan island of Upolu and damage to plantations in the countryside outside Apia.
A 1.5-metre tsunami wave swept into the American Samoa capital Pago Pago shortly after the earthquake, sending sea water surging inland about 100 metres before receding, leaving some cars stuck in mud.
Electricity outages were reported and telephone lines were jammed.
In Fagatogo, water reached the waterfront town’s meeting field and covered portions of the main highway, which also was plagued by rock slides.