PAGO PAGO, American Samoa — A powerful Pacific Ocean earthquake spawned towering tsunami waves that swept ashore on Samoa and American Samoa early Tuesday, flattening villages, killing at least 39 people and leaving dozens of workers missing at devastated National Park Service facilities.
Cars and people were swept out to sea by the fast-churning water as survivors fled to high ground, where they remained huddled hours later. Signs of devastation were everywhere, with a giant boat getting washed ashore and coming to rest on the edge of a highway and floodwaters swallowing up cars and homes.
American Samoa Gov. Togiola Tulafono said at least 50 were injured, in addition to the deaths.
Hampered by power and communications outages, officials struggled to assess the casualties and damage. But the death toll seemed sure to rise, with dead bodies already piling up at a hospital in Samoa.
The quake, with a magnitude between 8.0 and 8.3, struck around dawn about 20 miles below the ocean floor, 120 miles from American Samoa, a U.S. territory that is home to 65,000 people.
The territory is home to a U.S. National Park that appeared to be especially hard-hit. Holly Bundock, spokeswoman for the National Park Service's Pacific West Region in Oakland, Calif., said the superintendent of the park and another staffers had been able to locate only 20 percent of the park's 13 to 15 employees and 30 to 50 volunteers.
Mike Reynolds, superintendent of the National Park of American Samoa, was quoted as saying four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet high roared ashore soon afterward, reaching up to a mile inland. Bundock said Reynolds spoke to officials from under a coconut tree uphill from Pago Pago Harbor.
Residents in both Samoa and American Samoa reported being shaken awake by the quake, which lasted two to three minutes. The initial quake was followed by at least three aftershocks of at least 5.6 magnitude.