WASHINGTON/WELLINGTON - At least 25 people died in the Pacific island states of Samoa andAmerican Samoaafter atsunamiwas triggered by a magnitude 8.0 earthquake Tuesday, according to reports from the region.
A number of coastal villages were swept away and reports said the death toll was bound to rise as people who were evacuated to higher ground after the shake returned to lower levels.
Local radio stations inAmerican Samoareported 14 deaths and a Red Cross official in Apia, the capital of neighbouring Samoa, told Radio New Zealand there had been at least 11 deaths in that state.
The US Geological Survey put the magnitude of the quake, which was located about 204 km southwest of Samoa, at 8.0 on the Richter scale after earlier estimating it at 8.3.
As after shocks continued to hit the two Samoa states, seismologists reported two further quakes measuring 5.6 and a third of 5.8 in the South Pacific.
Reports said villages on the south coast of Samoa's main island Upolu had been extensively damaged by the tsunami, which sent waves up to 800 metres inland.
About five hours after the first quake, the Red Cross spokeswoman told Radio New Zealand the tsunami warning had been lifted and people were beginning to return to the sites of their homes to inspect the damage.
Civil defence officials in New Zealand, 2,685 km away from the quake's epicentre, issued an alert for the country's entire coastline after the PacificTsunamiWarning Centre in Hawaii said a three-metre tsunami was travelling across the Pacific at about 800
km an hour, but lifted its warning after the sea rose only 40 cm at East Cape.
Russell Hunter, editor of the Samoa Observer newspaper in Apia, told Radio New Zealand at least three children were among the dead.
The main village on another small island, Manono, was reported to be underwater but most residents made it to higher ground before the tsunami hit.
Reports saidtsunamiwarning and evacuation procedures worked well on Samoa, where most residents among the 220,000 population who lived along the 400 kilometres of coastline were moved to safety before the seas rolled in.
"It caused a lot of panic to most of the country this morning, as children are preparing to go to school and people … to work," a correspondent told Radio New Zealand.