"There has been a lot of damage, especially in the low-lying coastal villages," he said.

'Extensive damage'

Jonah Tuiletufuga from Radio Polynesia told Al Jazeera: "The damage is extensive. We got a call from a villager trying to warn other villagers. His village was decimated this morning.

"An earthquake of this size has the potential to generate a destructive tsunami that can strike coastlines near the epicentre within minutes"

Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre statement

"Reports are still coming in from the southeast there is extensive damage to whole villages. No one was really expecting this. There's a severe sense of shock."

The tsunami was triggered by an undersea earthquake of 8.3 magnitude between American Samoa and Samoa. 

In Apia, the Samoan capital, local media reported that people had fled their homes for higher ground after a tsunami warning.

Keni Lesa, a resident of Apia, told the AFP news agency: "I'm taking my family to a safe place. Everyone's getting out of coastal areas."

Tuiletufuga added: "There was a great response from the public.

"For the last three years there has been a drill implemented so there are designated areas where you have to run or walk to in the event of a tsunami."

Capital deserted

Cherelle Jackson, the editor of Environmental Weekly, told Al Jazeera that Apia had become like "a ghost town".

"There are reports on Radio Polynesia where people are phoning up and reporting waves of up to three metres high," she said.

In western Samoa some residents told Radio New Zealand that they had been encouraged to move to higher ground after the quake had caused a huge jolt.

But fears of a devastating ocean-wide tsunami were calmed after the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre cancelled its warning for the region three and a half hours after issuing it.