[Peter Paul Media] — A 8.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Samoa triggered a massive tsunami early Tuesday causing the destruction of entire villages, U.S. federal agencies confirmed Tuesday.
The earthquake was recorded at 6:48 a.m. local time [1:48 p.m. EDT] at an ocean depth of 33 kilometres., the U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] said.
The European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre reported 13 aftershocks following the quake.
After tense hours of awaiting news from overseas, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre cancelled all warnings just before 6:00 p.m. EDT.
At least 37 people were reported dead in Samoa — a toll which is expected to rise as casualties arrive at local hospitals. Reuters, citing an official, said the toll in western Samoa could reach 100.
Two South Koreans were also killed in Samoa, another is still missing, Xinhua reported.
One Australian was reported dead and six others are missing, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
The Samoan capital, Apia, was evacuated as authorities scrambled to survey the damage. Radio New Zealand quoted residents saying entire villages were destroyed in Samoa’s southeast and southwest coasts.
Casualties were reported on Upolu Island to the east and west of Apia — regions considered the hardest hit following the quake.
In Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, a witness told the Associated Press [AP] that a storm surge travelled 100 yards inland before receding. Tide stations near Pago Pago registered wave heights of 5.1 feet.
Radio New Zealand [RNZ] correspondent Fili Sagapolutele said he also “witnessed looting in one of the stores [in Pago Pago] and that is a very terrible thing to happen at this time.”
The Pago Pago International Airport was closed by the Federal Aviation Administration following damage to the runway, Hawaii’s KGMB9 reported.
American Samoa has a population of just over 65,628 people, far lower than Pago Pago’s population of just over 5,000 people.
U.S. President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster in American Samoa, enabling federal funding to help the victims. The National Parks Traveller blog said that the headquarters and visitor centre of the National Park of American Samoa had been completely destroyed. Nearby waves at the park reached up to 30 feet, the AP said.
In the Kingdom of Tonga, an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, coastal damage was reported following 13 foot-waves, the AP reported. On the island of Niuatoputatu, there were 10 reported deaths, the Tongan government said.
The production crews and cast of the CBS reality show “Survivor” were not affected by Tuesday’s quake, a spokeswoman said.
The series’ 19th and 20th seasons were being filmed in Samoa.
Earthquakes occur in the Asia-Pacific area regularly due to faults under the vast ocean.
“The broad scale Australia/Pacific plate boundary is one of the most active earthquake regions in the world,” the USGS said on its website.
People in the Asia-Pacific region have been on high alert since the December 2004 tsunami killed more that 220,000 people in Southeast Asia. That tsunami followed an undersea earthquake just west of Indonesia’s Java region.