Salamasina Taufua was basking in the sun yesterday and happily watching her three young children playing on the sand when a tsunami appeared suddenly and swept all three youngsters away.

Jesasa, 7, and his sisters Uena, 4, and E.J., 3, were dragged into the sea as they played at the family's Samoan beach resort, Taufua Beach Fales in Lalomanu, Aleipata.

The bodies of Jesasa and Uena were found yesterday afternoon. E.J. is presumed dead.

Mrs Taufua, who was also hit by the tsunami, was last night in a critical condition in the district hospital in Lalomanu.

Her father, Ale Vena Ale, said he was devastated and still coming to terms with the loss of his three grandchildren, as well as his eldest daughter's condition.

"All three of them - gone. Sina is in hospital and her children are dead.

"I just want to get to my daughter."

Mr Ale said his son-in-law had already left for work in the Samoan capital, Apia, when the earthquake struck just before 7am.

Turning back to go home, he arrived to find the resort destroyed, his three children gone and his wife barely alive.

"He's just lost," Mr Ale said.

"[He] called and said the two older kids' [bodies] have been found but they're still looking for the baby. It's tragic."

Lalomanu - located on the southern part of the island of Upolu - was one of the worst-hit villages when the tsunami surged through the island yesterday.

Whole villages were wiped out when the tsunami - triggered by an 8.3-magnitude earthquake - struck.

Other villages including Poutasi, Lefaga, Falealili and Saleapaga were reported to have suffered dozens of fatalities, and houses and crops destroyed.

Speaking to the Herald while driving to be at his daughter's bedside in Lalomanu, Mr Ale described the destruction he could see around him.

"The wave just came and destroyed everything - houses, cars, everything's down as far as you can see. It's like a carpet."

He said trucks carrying the bodies of the dead were filing past him, heading towards the morgue in Apia.

People were standing solemnly near the road, watching as the trucks went past, while others were picking through debris which hours earlier had been their homes.

"I've never seen anything like it," Mr Ale said. "You can see nothing but debris for about 300 yards.

"I'm just going past a church. It's just the outline of the building left."

Mr Ale, who lives in Toamua - on the western side of Upolu - said he and his family had just woken in the early hours of the morning when all of a sudden their house began to shake violently.

"We all ran outside of our house - the earthquake was so long, and everything shook. We were so scared - [we] thought the house would collapse."

Mr Ale said alarms rang loudly soon afterwards, warning people to get to higher ground because a tsunami was about to hit.