Dozens have been killed after a powerful earthquake struck near the Samoa Islands, sparking a tsunami which threatened New Zealand.

The Ministry of Civil Defence said the quake, measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale struck at 06.48am New Zealand time.

At least nine New Zealanders are reported to have been injured and one killed in Samoa.

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2:55am - Emergency crews continue to search for survivors and bodies through the night.

The Samoan Red Cross estimates 15,000 people have been affected by the tsunami which flattened tourist resorts and destroyed villages. It has been reported that some of the affected areas could be without electricity for up to a month.

Australian officials have confirmed the death of a third Australian, while the British Foreign office says one Briton is missing, presumed dead.

A New Zealand P3 Orion will resume its search for survivors in the area at first light. The aircraft was involved in a search operation yesterday afternoon.

1:44am - The EU will give 150,000 euros ($NZ309,789) as an initial offering to help meet the needs of tsunami victims in Samoa.

12:13am (Thursday) - US President Barack Obama has promised an "aggressive" effort to rescue survivors as the unofficial death toll in the region rises to 113.

10:19pm - The European Union is prepared to join the United States, Australia and New Zealand in bringing relief to the stricken region.

Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Karel De Gucht says the EU's humanitarian agency, ECHO, will continue to monitor the situation and will assist if needed.

Meanwhile, the official death toll in American Samoa has risen to 30.

9:53pm - Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says there are grave fears for another three Australians yet unaccounted for. Two Australians have already been confirmed dead, while seven have been taken to hospital with injuries.

A Samoan travel agency in Sydney has been inundated with inquiries from local Samoans who wish to travel back to the islands to support their communities. A spokesman told AAP that many of them had lost friends and family in the raging waters.

9:28pm - The New Zealand Government has confirmed nine New Zealanders injured and one dead as a result of the tsunami.

9:19pm - In response to reports that 10 people had died in Tonga, local officials have confirmed the deaths of six people in the island kingdom. Four more people remain missing.

Australian officials have confirmed the death of a six-year-old girl, bringing the number of Australian fatalities in the tsunami-stricken region to two.

There are 22 people confirmed dead in American Samoa.

8:40pm - An Australian woman who was among the many killed during the tsunami had travelled to Samoa to celebrate her 50th birthday, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

The paper says Maree Blacker and her husband, horse trainer John Blacker, were on a 10 day trip and were due to return to Australia this weekend. Mr Blacker suffered a broken jaw, broken ribs, and lacerations to his body.

7:55pm - A fresh tsunami warning which sent Samoans scurrying back into the hills was a false alarm, local reporters say. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre did not issue a fresh alert and the US Geological Survey has not recorded any new major earthquakes in the area.

Meanwhile the tsunami has caused 10 deaths in Tonga, the ABC has reported. NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully said today that the northern tip of Tonga had been impacted by the tsunami.

7:20pm - As night descended on the islands, an eyewitness contacted to explain how the people were coming to terms with the tsunami's destruction.

Sia Figiel, a writer based in American Samoa, says there has been an "outpour of alofa" (love) from friends and family around the Pacific region, from Australasia to the western United States.

"The evening bells have just been rung for evening prayer. Our prayer tonight is that of gratitude that our family and neighbours are safe," she says. "But our hearts are with those families who can not say the same."

"Their loss is our loss. Even the night birds feel it."

Read Sia Figiel's full account of the tsunami's impact here.
6:59pm - Samoan Deputy PM Misa Telefoni says Tui Annandale, a resort owner and one of Samoa's richest women, perished while trying to rescue children during today's devastation. He says that Mrs Annandale's husband, Joe, suffered critical injuries. Mr Telefoni is a cousin of Mr Annandale's.

6:41pm - Local residents say authorities have issued a fresh tsunami warning as the official death toll continues to rise.

Samoan police commissioner Lilo Maiava told the Associated Press that police have confirmed 63 deaths, and officials are still searching the devastated areas, so the number of deaths might rise soon.

Meanwhile Air New Zealand has joined the local response, carrying blankets, clothing and other aid items to Samoa on a passenger jet. The emergency supplies will benefit those who have lost possessions today.

5:07pm - Adrian Prowse from the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management said this afternoon that alerts will remain in place into the evening.

He said the waves which had been recorded here were smaller than anticipated and "we're certainly not anticipating anything greater than a metre arriving in New Zealand."

4:57pm - Authorities have confirmed the death of one Australian woman in Samoa. Six others are unaccounted for and three have been hospitalised, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says.

4:41pm - Foreign Minister Murray McCully says there are unconfirmed reports of five deaths on the northern Tongan island of Niuatoputapu.

4:40pm - One of the runways at Pago Pago International Airport is being cleared of debris for emergency use, says a US Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.

The FAA is deploying teams to American Samoa for support and damage evaluation.

Japan's Meteorological Agency also issued a tsunami warning all along that country's eastern coast.

4:30pm - New Zealander Scott Mulholland, working in the Samoan capital of Apia, says the death toll is rising by the hour.

"The big thing is now more bodies are washing up," he told Newstalk ZB. "The last count that I heard - there's been over 100 found on the southern coast. And they are expecting more."

4:15pm - AAP reports that an Australian woman is missing following the the Samoan tsunami. Another seven Australians have been injured in the disaster.

3:55pm - US President Barack Obama has declared that a "major disaster exists" in American Samoa.

He has ordered federal aid to supplement territory and local recovery efforts, a White House statement says.

3:49pm - Acting PM Bill English has said that a reliable source has confirmed that one New Zealander has died in Samoa, and that more Kiwi fatalities are "likely".

3:40pm - Health officials in Samoa have confirmed at least 31 bodies have been brought to the morgue at the national hospital in Apia.

3:31pm - The Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management's Tsunami Warning this morning was later downgraded to a 'potential threat advisory' which remains in place.

MCDEM says tsunami wave activity is still being recorded at East Cape, North Cape and the Chatham Islands.

3:22pm - Civil Defence officials in the Bay of Plenty have acknowledged that a helicopter broadcasting to locals on the ground, added to some people's tsunami fears this morning.

A tsunami warning was issued for New Zealand after it caused devastation in Samoa, wiping out a village and causing more than 40 deaths.

3:15pm - A Defence Force Orion has left New Zealand for Samoa to help in the aftermath of the tsunami.

The Government sent the Orion to help search for survivors and assess damage after this morning's magnitude 8 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

3:04pm - Ports of Auckland management sent its tug boats, a pilot vessel and an oil tanker out into the Waitemata Harbour after the tsunami warning was received. This was done to avoid the potential for damage to them or wharfs should any large wave hit.

Managing Director Jens Madsen said there were no vessels berthed at the port's terminals during the alert and larger vessels at the general cargo wharves were secured with additional mooring lines.

As a precaution and safety measure for staff, ports operations were also temporarily suspended between 10.30 and 11.00am, and again between 12noon and 1.00pm.

2:51pm - Heavyweight boxer David Tua has revealed that his aunt died in today's Samoan tsunami disaster.

Tua, due to face Shane Cameron this weekend, said the tragedy won't stop the fight.

2:43pm - The New Zealand High Commission in Apia confirmed this afternoon that at least two New Zealand holidaymakers had been hurt by the tidal wave.

"As far as we can tell though their injuries are not serious or life-threatening," said acting High Commissioner David Dolphin.

He said it is possible that more Kiwis have been caught up in the disaster.

2:07pm - The Samoan Prime Minister's hometown of Lepa was one of several villages completely levelled by the tsunami, says Radio 531 PI.

The village of Lalomanu so far has sustained the highest number of casualties, with reports of bodies being found buried in the sand.

Although there are 76 Kiwis registered as being in Samoa, the number is likely to be higher than that due to the current school holidays.

2:06pm - The New Zealand Red Cross has launched a Samoa Tsunami Relief appeal. Donations can be made by visiting
1:54pm - Civil defence director John Hamilton is warning people to continue to stay away from beaches even though he has downgraded a tsunami warning. Read more
1:12pm - Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi and his deputy Misa Telefoni are currently in Auckland but are due to fly back to Samoa shortly, according to Radio 531 PI.

Homeland Security director Mike Sala says the tsunami wreaked havoc in American Samoa, killing 19 people.

1:08pm - The confirmed number of deaths in Samoa following this morning's magnitude 8.3 earthquake and tsunami is expected to rise as rescue teams make their way to the worst affected areas. Read more
12:51pm - Unconfirmed reports by the The Associated Press say that three or four villages on the popular tourist coast near Lalomanu on Samoa's main island of Upolu had been "wiped out" by waves that roared ashore.

12:34pm - In Christchurch, dozens of people ignored warnings and flocked to New Brighton beach to catch a glimpse of the tsunami.

Official vehicles, driving up and down the beach with flashing lights, failed to deter people walking their dogs along the beach.

Several surfers took to the water as the estimated 1 metre high wave was due to arrive.

Canterbury's Emergency Management Group said at midday it was "cautiously optimistic" that there would be no damage from the wave in Canterbury.

There appeared to be no obvious sign of larger waves around midday, when the tsunami was due to hit the coast.

12:27pm - Radio 531 PI says there have been four deaths confirmed at the National Hospital in Apia.

A four-year-old boy is also reportedly missing after falling off a transport boat between Upolu and Savaii.

According to the station, the boy fell out when the boat - which makes daily journeys between the islands - overturned and was lost at sea.

Relief efforts are being mobilised as residents salvage what they can and assess the damage.

Many roads have been blocked by debris or completely destroyed and vehicles either swept away or stuck in deep mud.

12:15pm - There are unconfirmed reports that 40 people from the Samoan village of Lalomanu - on the south-eastern end of the island of Upolu - have been killed.

12:10pm - New Zealanders John and Grace Winther are holidaying in Apia and told sirens started going off shortly after this morning's earthquake.

They went outside but found everyone else staying at their hotel had already gone, so waved down a passing policeman who took them to a school on higher ground.

They later discovered the man who had assisted them was the assistant police commissioner.

12:03pm - From Mike Purchase, whose ex-wife and kids are on holiday in Samoa: "I finally managed to talk to them after a stressful morning of no contact. They are at Aggie Grey's Lagoon on Upolu Island and appear to have avoided the worst of it. The quake woke them this morning and they described it as the earth 'rolling'."

Apparently one guest at the resort took a leadership role and ran around waking other guests and getting people to the reception area. Staff then took them in trucks to safety in the highest part of the resort. The sea receded substantially but it sounds like they avoided any surge on that part of the island.

The impression they had was the locals were well rehearsed in the evacuation from a possible tsunami.

12:00pm - Tsunami warning devices on Raoul Island are reading slightly higher than usual, according to DoC.

Acting area manager for DoC in Whangarei Liz Maire has spoken to staff at Raoul, 1100km north of New Zealand, who say they didn't notice the change but monitoring devices noted a change of about one metre.

11:39am - Air New Zealand says it will be adding an additional 150 seats and extra cargo capacity to its scheduled service from Auckland to Samoa this afternoon in the event aid support is required for tsunami struck communities.

A spokesperson says the service has been up-gauged from a 152 seat A320 to a 304 seat Boeing 777-200ER.

"We are acutely aware that this is an evolving situation and Government and aid agencies may require the ability to move people or supplies at short notice.

"We have been in touch with the New Zealand Government and offered whatever support we can to emergency relief efforts and to repatriate any Kiwis who want to leave Samoa and get home. While the airport at Samoa is currently closed for inspection, we are hopeful that it will be operational by mid-afternoon."

11:20am - Radio 531PI reports that several lives have been lost in both Samoa and American Samoa and a school and hospital destroyed.

According to one report, waves up to 6m high were seen on the southern coast of Upolu, which bore the brunt of the tsunami.

Villages between Savaii and Upolu have been flattened and three people are missing from Salailua, a village on Savaii.

Meanwhile, thousands are gathered on Mt Vaia waiting for the all-clear.

The station also reports that tsunami sirens around Waitakere have been activated as a "precaution".

The affected areas are Piha, Karekare, Huia on the west as well as Herald Island and Te Atatu.

Civil Defence says locals do not have to evacuate but should stay away from beaches, bridges, estuaries and low lying areas.

Volunteers are currently working to clear the beaches.

11:12am - Civil Defence has downgraded this morning's tsunami warning to a tsunami alert.

11:00am - Locals on the island of Savai'i, west of Upolu, are reporting that the sea has receded and no water is visible.

While everyone in the area has moved to higher ground, there are fears that the water will return as a tsunami.

10:53am - The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has just cancelled its Pacific-wide tsunami warning.

10:45am - Reuters is now citing at least 14 dead in American Samoa.

10:44am - Latest images from the Geonet service show some earthquake disturbance recorded by sensors on Raoul Island, north of New Zealand, around the time an earthquake hit Samoa.

Geonet is a collaboration between the Earthquake Commission and GNS Science.

10:42am - Radio 531PI has confirmed three deaths in Samoa so far.

A Radio Polynesia correspondent in Apia told the station that two women and a child had died.

Coastal areas such as Aleipata and Lufilufi, especially around the southeast, have been the worst affected. In some cases, entire villages have been flattened.

Houses in Lufilufi have been "wiped out" with most of the coastal parts currently underwater.

Residents have been advised to stay away from the coast for at least two hours and remain in the safety zone until an all-clear is given.

Reports of missing people and damage are continuing to filter in.

10:41am - Peter Waters, the fire chief at Whangamata has told Radio New Zealand there have been reports of a 40cm wave at East Cape.

He said he was expecting any waves that reached Whangamata to be small.

10:35am - Russell Hunter, editor of Samoa Observer, has told The Age in Melbourne at least five people have died in a beach village "devastated" by large waves after the powerful quake.

He said a journalist had reported the fatalities in the village of Fautasi, west of the capital Apia, caused by massive waves rather than an earthquake.

10:25am - A 90cm wave has reportedly hit Tolaga Bay. People staying at Matata Campground in the area have been moved up a hillside away from the water.

People in the Chatham Islands have been moved away from coastal areas to designated areas of higher ground. However Constable Owen Brunel said the time for the tsunami to hit had passed "and there has been no response from the sea at this stage".

Police are out on Auckland's Tamaki Drive asking people to stay off the popular beaches in the area.

10:18am - Radio 531pi reports via a correspondent in Samoa that there have been ten fatalities, including unconfirmed reports of two schoolchildren in Falealili being swept away.

Apia has been deserted as people make their way to higher ground Mt Vaia.

Emergency services are on their way to affected areas to provide shelter and other assistance, including villages which have been hit the hardest.

10:17am - The Associated Press quotes New Zealander Graeme Ansell as saying the beach village of Sau Sau Beach Fale was leveled after the quake:

"It was very quick. The whole village has been wiped out," he said. Ansell told National Radio from a hill near Samoa's capital, Apia. "There's not a building standing. We've all clambered up hills, and one of our party has a broken leg. There will be people in a great lot of need 'round here."

10:05am - The Pacific Tsunami Centre has just downgraded its warning to Hawaii from a warning to an advisory.

The tsunami has prompted people to head to high ground around Whakatane and Opotiki to see the wave but nothing has arrived.

The estimated time of arrival of the tsunami on the east coast - 9.45am - has passed a few moments ago without any significant waves.

But authorities have told those watching that any warning should stay in place for at least two hours.

There is no further information but it would suggest there is little danger for Hawaii.

10:02am - The Samoa Alive news site is reporting products were thrown off shelves in supermarkets in Apia.

It also reports high seas hitting coastal areas around Fagaloa and Siumu on the eastern side of Upolu Island.

School has been cancelled for the day for all school children.

"Long streams of cars are jamming the roads and it maybe a while for traffic officers to untangle the road jams."

10:00am - Northlanders living in low-lying east coast areas are being warned to stay off beaches and move to higher ground as a precaution. Areas that may be affected should a tsunami hit include: Doubtless Bay, Rangiputa, Hihi, Te Ngaire, Bay Of Islands - Waitangi, Paihia, Opua, Russell, Bland Bay, Oakura, Matapouri, Whangarei's east coast, Bream Bay area, Mangawhai area.

9:58am - The Earthquake Commission has this information on what to do in a tsunami:

* Turn on your radio and follow all instructions.
* Take your Getaway Kit with you if you are told to evacuate.
* Leave the area immediately if you are on the beach or near a river when a strong earthquake occurs.
* Go at least one kilometre inland or 35 metres above sea level.
* Don't go to a river or beach to watch the waves come in

9:51am - People at Waihi Beach have been advised by the fire service and police to leave town. A roadblock has been set up to prevent people entering the area.

A reader says via Twitter: "I'm in Waihi Beach BOP. Civil Defence chopper circling overhead telling people to get off beach, but no 'higher ground' alarm yet"

NZ surfing site is also warning Kiwi wave riders to stay away from the coast for the next couple of hours.

9:50am - Civil Defence sirens are wailing throughout Whakatane as residents are warned to stay off the beach ahead of a possible tsunami.

9:40am - Hawaii Civil Defence has cancelled the tsunami watch but says Hawaii may still experience a significant tidal surge.

Interactive map of the affected area

View Samoa earthquake in a larger map