A strong earthquake that rumbled in the ocean off American Samoa generated three separate tsunami waves blamed for at least 14 deaths, officials said.
The Daily Telegraph reported at least 14 people died in American Samoa and there were unconfirmed reports of 40 people dying in the village of Lalomanu in neighboring Samoa.
The British newspaper said several coastal villages in the South Pacific island region were demolished by the quake-created waves, which was measured about 5 feet above sea level in Apia, the Samoan capital.
Officials said the death toll likely would go higher.
New Zealand tourist Graeme Ansell said the Samoan resort of Sau Sau Beache Fale had been decimated.
“It was very quick and it’s all been flattened,” he told Radio New Zealand. “We need help.”
Samoan resident Rua McCarney said the fatalities included at least three schoolchildren “killed when the waves came through,” flooding school buildings.
Josh Nayangu told the BBC the scene was “horrible.”
“The village is gone and my once beautiful beach front villa has now being submerged in water,” said Nayangu, who fled on a small fishing boat with his wife and son.
The earthquake, measured at an 8.0 magnitude by the U.S. Geological Survey, struck about 120 miles southwest of American Samoa, at about 1:28 p.m. EST, MSNBC.com reported. The epicenter was about 115 miles northeast of Hihifo, Tonga, and 115 miles southwest of Apia, Samoa.
A tsunami watch was in effect for Hawaii, Papua New Guinea and other small Pacific islands was later lifted.
Eni Faleomavaega, a representative from American Samoa to the U.S. Congress, told NBC News the quake hit between the North Marianas Islands and American Samoa, generating 10- to 15-foot waves in low-lying areas such as Pago Pago Bay.
“Cars were seen floating,” the congressman said.
The nation of Samoa and the U.S. territory American Samoa have a total population of about 250,000 people.