APIA, SAMOA—APIA, Samoa (AP) - A powerful earthquake in the South Pacific hurled massive tsunami waves at the shores of Samoa and American Samoa, flattening villages and sweeping cars and people out to sea, leaving at least 82 dead and dozens missing.
Survivors fled the fast-churning water for higher ground and remained huddled there hours after the quake struck early Tuesday. Signs of devastation were everywhere, with a giant boat washed ashore lying on the edge of a highway and floodwaters swallowing up cars and homes.
The quake, with a magnitude between 8.0 and 8.3, struck around dawn about 125 miles (200 kilometers) from Samoa, an island nation of 180,000 people located about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii. It struck about 120 miles (190 kilometers) from neighboring American Samoa, a U.S. territory that is home to 65,000 people.
Four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters) high roared ashore on American Samoa, reaching up to a mile (1.6 kilometers) inland, Mike Reynolds, superintendent of the National Park of American Samoa, was quoted as saying by a parks service spokeswoman. He reported dozens of park workers missing.
Hampered by power and communications outages, officials struggled to determine damage and casualties.
Samoan police commissioner Lilo Maiava told The Associated Press that police there had confirmed 63 deaths but that officials were still searching the devastated areas, so the number of deaths might rise soon.
Hundreds of injured were being treated by health workers and that people are still struggling into centers seeking treatment, Maiava said.
At least 19 people were killed on American Samoa, officials there said.
"I don't think anybody is going to be spared in this disaster," said American Samoa Gov. Togiola Tulafono, who was in Hawaii for a conference.
In Washington, President Barack Obama declared a disaster for American Samoa. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was deploying teams to provide support and assess damage.
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi looked shaken Wednesday on board a flight from Auckland, New Zealand, to the Samoan capital of Apia.
"So much has gone. So many people are gone," he told reporters on board. "I'm so shocked, so saddened by all the loss."
Malielegaoi said his own village of Lepa was destroyed.
"Thankfully, the alarm sounded on the radio and gave people time to climb to higher ground," he said. "But not everyone escaped."
Gov. Tulafono told reporters in Honolulu that more victims could be found when rescuers reach areas that are inaccessible by roads. Tulafono said a member of his extended family was among the dead.
There were unconfirmed reports of at least five additional people dead in the island nation of Tonga, west of the Samoas, New Zealand's acting Prime Minister Bill English said.
"There are a considerable number of people who've been swept out to sea and are unaccounted for," English said. "We don't have information about the full impact and we do have some real concern that over the next 12 hours the picture could look worse rather than better."
He said a New Zealand P3 Orion maritime surveillance plane would reach the region later Wednesday to search for survivors. U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Lt. John Titchen said a C-130 was being dispatched Wednesday to deliver aid to American Somoa, assess damage and take the governor back home.
On Samoa, New Zealander Graeme Ansell said the beach village of Sau Sau Beach Fale was leveled.