A New Zealand woman whose family home and possessions were washed away by the tsunami in Samoa found the toughest thing to deal with was the looting that followed.

Samoa was hit by a tsunami following a 8.3-magnitude undersea quake on Tuesday.

At least 135 died and the toll continues to rise.

Tanya Peni, originally of Wellington, lives on the south coast of Upolu with her Samoan-Tuvaluan husband and their two children.

Their house was destroyed in the tsunami last week, but the family were safe after fleeing to the hills following the earthquake.

"We've lost all our things but we haven't lost anything," Mrs Peni told NZPA.

Going about a normal routine was hard, she said.

"You go to pick up a comb ... and you realise that none of that is there.

"It's the small things, but it's all the small things."

Mrs Peni went into a store to buy something for her dog and "you realise, oh shit, my dog is gone, and so you burst into tears".

All that was left of their home, near Coconuts resort, were the concrete foundations, and even those had been torn from the ground.

Full water tanks were thrown 400 metres and "peeled like an orange".

"It's like someone vacuumed our section, it's clean.

"My husband's pick-up was parked up a tree of coconuts ... it's heavy metal and that's just been smashed into a tree like it was a Tonka toy."

The family had been down to the site over the weekend to retrieve what they could find - mainly clothes.

"Then you find something completely ridiculous intact, like I found my coffee plunger, with the glass intact."

An All Blacks flag also survived and has been given to an Australian for careful laundering.

Mrs Peni was hesitant to head back down after the tsunami because she was with her children and by the time she returned a set of drawers that remained intact had been stolen.

The drawers contained family jewellery with sentimental value.

"By the time we did get (there) there'd been so much looting.

"(But) everyone else has been so wonderful."

People have been providing much appreciated food, Mrs Peni said.

Donations of clothes were not so helpful - "it's not like we're in a cold country" - hygiene items such as toilet paper and clean water were more important, she said.

"All of the water where people have been washing their clothes has all been swamped with ... bodies and debris ... you can only expect that illness is going to come next."

Mrs Peni and her family were living temporarily with her in-laws.

Conditions were not ideal with no running water and intermittent power supply.

They plan to build again on the same section but will build higher and in concrete rather than wood, she said.

They had some insurance.

"I'm not used to being the victim, I'm used to being part of the organising ... you do it for other people, this doesn't happen to me or my family."

New Zealand teacher Jo Taylor lives in Samoa and works at Vaiala Beach School on the north coast.

She was woken up by the earthquake and stood in a doorway.

"We didn't think too much about a tsunami," Ms Taylor told NZPA.

When the church bells started ringing and local kids were running down the road, she and her partner decided to drive up the hill to a school where everyone was gathered.

"Everyone seemed pretty relaxed about it all."

There was now a lot of rebuilding work and concern about diseases due to a lack of clean water and sanitation, Ms Taylor said.

Those displaced by the tsunami were now living in tarpaulin shelters in the hills, she said.

There was "some frustration" in watching the way local authorities dealt with the aftermath.

"Police have been stationed in Apia directing traffic at traffic lights that work instead of being over on the south coast (the worst hit area) helping out," Ms Taylor said.

Samoa had held a telethon to raise money but there would need to be long-term support to help with rebuilding, she said.

"From what I've seen there's been a huge amount of aid sent over from Australia and New Zealand which is obviously a really good sign.

"Obviously, a developing nation isn't super-well prepared for things like this."

The tourism industry was particularly hard hit by the tsunami.

"All that Lalomanu area was the number one place to go."