(CNN) — A huge emergency effort was under way Wednesday in the Samoan Islands after towering tsunami waves triggered by an 8.0-magnitude earthquake left more than 100 people dead and flattened entire villages.
The quake hit the small cluster of Samoan islands in the South Pacific early Tuesday.
At least 111 people were confirmed dead. They included 22 people killed in American Samoa, 84 in Samoa, and seven in Tonga, according to officials on the islands.
Officials warned that the death toll could rise as rescue workers start to reach outlying villages and discover new casualties.
“I thought it was the end of the world,” said Dr. Salamo Laumoli, the director of health services at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Tropical Medical Center in American Samoa. “I have never felt an earthquake like that before.”
Patients at the hospital were briefly moved to higher ground, but they were soon brought back and the hospital is operating, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency said. The airport in the capital of Pago Pago was also operational and being used for emergency flights, FEMA said.
The British Foreign Office said one of the dead was a British national, but no other details were provided.
In Tonga, Lord Tuita, the acting prime minister, said at least seven people were killed on the northern island of Niuatoputapu. Three others were missing and four people were being treated for serious injuries, he said.
“The hospital on the island is reported to have suffered major damage; telephone communications has been cut as a result of damage to equipment and facilities on the island; homes and government buildings have been destroyed; the airport runway has been severely damaged making it impossible for any fixed wing aircraft to land,” a statement from the Tongan prime minister’s office said.
The United States quickly dispatched emergency aid to its territory of American Samoa.
A U.S. Defense Department official said 75 members of the Hawaii National Guard were ordered to American Somoa to begin assisting with medical relief, search and rescue and providing communications capabilities on the island. The unit will bring enough supplies to sustain themselves for 96 hours and its expected more aid from the military could begin flowing in, the official said.