APIA, Samoa (AP) - A powerful earthquake in the South Pacifichurled massive tsunami waves at the shores of Samoa and AmericanSamoa, 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 andremained huddled there hours after the quake struck early Tuesday.Signs of devastation were everywhere, with a giant boat washedashore lying on the edge of a highway and floodwaters swallowing upcars and homes.
The quake, with a magnitude between 8.0 and 8.3, struck arounddawn about 125 miles (200 kilometers) from Samoa, an island nationof 180,000 people located about halfway between New Zealand andHawaii. It struck about 120 miles (190 kilometers) from neighboringAmerican Samoa, a U.S. territory that is home to 65,000 people.
Four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters) high roaredashore on American Samoa, reaching up to a mile (1.6 kilometers)inland, Mike Reynolds, superintendent of the National Park ofAmerican Samoa, was quoted as saying by a parks servicespokeswoman. He reported dozens of park workers missing.
Hampered by power and communications outages, officialsstruggled to determine damage and casualties.
Samoan police commissioner Lilo Maiava told The Associated Pressthat police there had confirmed 63 deaths but that officials werestill searching the devastated areas, so the number of deaths mightrise soon.
Hundreds of injured were being treated by health workers andthat people are still struggling into centers seeking treatment,Maiava said.
At least 19 people were killed on American Samoa, officialsthere said.
"I don't think anybody is going to be spared in thisdisaster," said American Samoa Gov. Togiola Tulafono, who was inHawaii for a conference.
In Washington, President Barack Obama declared a disaster forAmerican Samoa. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it wasdeploying teams to provide support and assess damage.
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi looked shakenWednesday on board a flight from Auckland, New Zealand, to theSamoan capital of Apia.
"So much has gone. So many people are gone," he told reporterson 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 peopletime to climb to higher ground," he said. "But not everyoneescaped."
Gov. Tulafono told reporters in Honolulu that more victims couldbe 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 additionalpeople dead in the island nation of Tonga, west of the Samoas, NewZealand's acting Prime Minister Bill English said.
"There are a considerable number of people who've been sweptout to sea and are unaccounted for," English said. "We don't haveinformation about the full impact and we do have some real concernthat over the next 12 hours the picture could look worse ratherthan better."
He said a New Zealand P3 Orion maritime surveillance plane wouldreach the region later Wednesday to search for survivors. U.S.Coast Guard spokesman Lt. John Titchen said a C-130 was beingdispatched Wednesday to deliver aid to American Somoa, assessdamage and take the governor back home.
On Samoa, New Zealander Graeme Ansell said the beach village ofSau Sau Beach Fale was leveled.
"It was very quick. The whole village has been wiped out,"Ansell told New Zealand's National Radio from a hill near Samoa'scapital, Apia. "There's not a building standing. We've allclambered up hills, and one of our party has a broken leg. Therewill be people in a great lot of need 'round here."
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said anAustralian woman has been confirmed killed in Samoa, three otherAustralians have been hospitalized and six other Australians remainunaccounted for after the tsunami.
Mase Akapo, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service inAmerican Samoa, reported at least 19 people killed in fourdifferent villages on the main island of Tutuila. Officialsreported at least 50 injured.
American Samoa is home to a U.S. national park that appeared tobe especially hard-hit.
Reynolds, the park superintendent, said he had been able tolocate only 20 percent of the park's 40 to 50 employees andvolunteers. He spoke to park service officials from Pago PagoHarbor and reported that the visitor center and offices weredestroyed, according to Holly Bundock, a spokeswoman for theNational Park Service.
Residents in both Samoa and American Samoa reported being shakenawake by the quake early Tuesday, which lasted two to three minutesand was centered about 20 miles (32 kilometers) below the oceanfloor. It was followed by at least three large aftershocks of atleast 5.6 magnitude.
The quake came Tuesday morning for the Samoas, which lie justeast of the international dateline. For Asia-Pacific countries onthe other side of the line, it was already Wednesday.
The Samoan capital was virtually deserted with schools andbusinesses closed. Hours after the waves struck, fresh sirens rangout with another tsunami alert and panicked residents headed forhigher ground again, although there was no indication of a newquake.
Eni Faleomavaega, who represents American Samoa as a non-votingdelegate in the U.S. House, said he had talked to people bytelephone who said that Pago Pago - just a few feet above sea level- was flattened and several hundred people's homes were destroyed.
The dominant industry in American Samoa - tuna canneries - wasalso affected. Chicken of the Sea's tuna packing plant in AmericanSamoa was forced to close although the facility wasn't damaged, theSan Diego-based company said.
The effects of the tsunami could be felt thousands of milesaway.
Japan's Meteorological Agency said "very weak" tsunami waveswere registered off the island of Hachijojima about 10 hours afterthe quake. There were no reports of injuries or damage in Japan,which is about 4,700 miles (7,600 kilometers) northwest of Samoa.
U.S. officials said strong currents and dangerous waves wereforecast from California to Washington state. No major flooding wasexpected, however.
In Los Angeles, lifeguards said they will clear beaches at about8 p.m. in response to an advisory for possible dangerous currents.
While the earthquake and tsunami were big, they were not on thesame scale of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, said Brian Atwater ofthe U.S. Geological Survey in Seattle. That tsunami killed morethan 230,000 in a dozen countries across Asia.
The 2004 quake was at least 10 times stronger than themeasurements being reported for Tuesday's quake, Atwater said.
Sagapolutele reported from Pago Pago, American Samoa. AssociatedPress writers Ray Lilley in Wellington, New Zealand; Jaymes Songand Herbert A. Sample in Honolulu and Seth Borenstein and MicheleSalcedo in Washington contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times