A huge undersea earthquake set off tsunami waves resulting in at least 34 deaths in the Samoan Islands, officials said.
The death toll was uncertain hours after the quake, which struck just before 7 a.m. local time Wednesday. The New Zealand Herald reported at least 34 deaths in Samoa and American Samoa.
The epicenter of the quake was 125 miles south of Apia, Samoa, the U.S. Geological Survey reported The quake measured 8 on the Richter scale, considered a “great” earthquake.
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.
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.
There were several smaller earthquakes near the epicenter Wednesday afternoon, including at least two measuring around 5 on the Richter scale, the USGS said.