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Tsunami waves following a strong earthquake have killed at least 34 people in the Samoan islands.

A powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 8.0 struck early Wednesday between the islands of Samoa and American Samoa and set off tsunami waves.  The waves devastated coastal areas, knocking down buildings and sending cars floating out to sea.  Survivors fled to high ground and stayed there for hours.

Officials are working to assess the number of victims and the extent of the damage.  Reuters news agency quotes the Samoan disaster management agency as saying up to 100 people may have been killed on Samoa alone.

At the capital of American Samoa, Pago Pago, the tsunami wave measured 1.57 meters in height.  The superintendent of the National Park of American Samoa, Mike Reynolds reported four tsunami waves as high as six meters.

The U.S. Coast Guard is sending a C-130 plane to American Samoa to deliver aid.  New Zealand is sending an Orion maritime search plane to Samoa to help look for victims.

Strong aftershocks followed the initial earthquake, with at least one measuring a magnitude 5.6. Tsunami alerts were issued for the entire South Pacific region but were later canceled.

Japan's Meteorological Agency has issued a tsunami warning for all of its eastern coast, predicting a tsunami of up to 50 centimeters.

People who experienced the quake said it was long, lasting from 90 seconds to three minutes.

The U.S. Geological Survey reports that the earthquake struck about 180 kilometers east of Tonga in the South Pacific, at a depth of 18 kilometers.

Experts say the quake took place midway between Samoa and American Samoa.  The Samoan Islands are in the southern Pacific Ocean, about halfway between New Zealand and the Hawaiian Islands.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.