"In some villages absolutely no house was standing. All that was achieved within 10 minutes by the very powerful tsunami."
He said his own village of Lesa had been washed away.
Samoan authorities have said that some islanders remain unaccounted for and may well have been washed out to sea or buried under tonnes of debris, says the BBC's Phil Mercer in the Samoan capital Apia.
But nearly two days after huge walls of water crashed into coastal areas the massive recovery effort is starting to take shape, he says.
In nearby American Samoa, a US territory, Governor Togiola Tulafono said at least 30 people had been killed. And in Tonga, officials said nine people were dead.
Amateur video footage showed villages destroyed, homes flattened and cars lodged in treetops.
Tsunami survivor: "We lost both our kids"
Residents and tourists fled to higher ground as boats were swept inland and cars and people sucked out to sea.
US President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in American Samoa and pledged a "swift and aggressive" government response.
The European Union released an initial amount of 150,000 euros (£137,000; $220,000) in aid for the victims, and Australia and New Zealand also pledged assistance.
The Red Cross has set up camps for those who have lost their homes, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
'River of mud'
The 8.3-magnitude quake struck at 1748 GMT on Tuesday, generating 15ft (4.5m) waves in some areas of the islands.
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