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A series of tsunamis has caused widespread death and destruction in the South Pacific. The waves were triggered by a powerful deep sea earthquake between Samoa and American Samoa. Scores of people are reported to have been killed.
Each hour brings more reports of loss of life and immense damage to what is normally a serene corner of the South Pacific. Parts of Samoa and American Samoa were pounded by a series of large waves unleashed by a magnitude eight earthquake early Tuesday.
Island residents said they were shaken by a huge jolt, which was followed by tremors that lasted for several minutes. Then the tsunamis struck.
Nathan Becker from the Pacific Tsunami Center in Hawaii says that large walls of water would have crashed onto the shoreline.
"I think it's on the order of several meters probably," Becker said. "That's a damaging and dangerous tsunami. A half meter tsunami can take you off your feet and drag you under, so three meters could be quite damaging and dangerous.' "
Damage reports are hard to get, because telecommunications and power supplies have been knocked out or overloaded in the islands. Scores of people are reported to have been killed. Officials fear entire villages have been washed away and that many bodies may be buried in the sand. The lucky ones managed to reach higher ground before their homes were swallowed up. Treating the injured and housing the displaced will be enormous challenges and the true scale of the disaster could take weeks to emerge.
Among the first relief flights to reach the islands will be a U.S. Coast Guard plane from the state of Hawaii. Coast Guard Lieutenant John Titchen says the flight is expected to reach American Samoa very early Wednesday and will try to get a preliminary assessment of the damage.
"They are taking the governor of American Samoa, who is here in Honolulu, back to Pago Pago," Titchen said. "Before they land, the aircrew intends to conduct an over-flight of the island, the port of Pago Pago and some of the outlying islands."
Titchen says one of the Coast Guard's key concerns is the condition of the sea port. A functioning port is key to getting relief supplies to the islands. He says two Coast Guard vessels also are on the way, one from Hawaii and one from the U.S. Pacific territory Guam.
The Australian government is concerned about foreign tourists at resorts on Samoa's southeast coast, which is one of the worst-hit regions. There are reports that two South Koreans and an Australian visitor are among the dead.
A tsunami alert was issued for other parts of the South Pacific, including New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji and Hawaii, but was later canceled. Authorities in Japan put its eastern seaboard on high alert.
President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster in American Samoa and federal aid will supplement local recovery efforts.
The Samoa islands comprise the nation of Samoa and American Samoa, a U.S. territory - with a total population of about 250,000 people.