At least 36 people were killed when an 8.0-magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami hit the remote Pacific islands of Samoa and American Samoa Tuesday, wiping out tourist resorts and villages.
Buildings were toppled and thousands of people fled to higher ground after the offshore quake struck in the early morning, followed by giant waves which swept cars out to sea.
At least 22 were confirmed dead in American Samoa, while the Red Cross said another 14 were dead in Samoa and warned that the death toll was expected to rise amid unconfirmed reports of scores missing.
Eyewitnesses reported walls of water of between three and nine metres pounding the shore, wiping out villages and shattering holiday resorts.
Samoa's deputy prime minister Misa Telefoni said a resort area popular with foreigners was "devastated" by the tsunami that followed the monster quake and that residents and holidaymakers had little time to flee.
"We've heard that most of the resorts are totally devastated on that side of the island.
"We've had a pretty grim picture painted of all that coast," he said.
Two of the country's most popular resorts, Sinalei Reef Resort and Coconuts Beach Resort, off the west coast of the main island of Upolu, had been hit hard, he told the Australian Associated Press.
There was widespread destruction in Samoa with possibly thousands of people left homeless on the island, local journalist Jona Tuiletufuga told AFP.
"We are getting reports of missing people in areas where damage is extensive on the south and southeast coasts," he told AFP."
"Entire villages have been wiped out."
Tuiletufuga said there were up to 70 villages in the worst-hit area and each housed from 300-800 people.
Apia, capital of the independent state of Samoa and nearly 3,000 kilometres from Auckland in New Zealand, was evacuated as officials scrambled to get thousands of residents to higher ground.
Officials in American Samoa, about 100 kilometres from Samoa, said at least 22 people were dead and that the toll was expected to climb.
"It could take a week or so before we know the full extent," Michael Sala, Homeland Security director in American Samoa, told AFP.
Waves measuring around 7.5-metres high did most of the damage as they swept ashore about 20 minutes after the earthquake, demolishing buildings in coastal areas, he said.