British child 'presumed dead' after tsunami

A two-year-old British boy was feared dead tonight after a devastating tsunami, trigged by a massive earthquake, tore through islands in the south Pacific Ocean.

The boy, who has not been named, was on a Samoan beach with his parents when he was swept away early on Tuesday by waves up to 20ft high.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) confirmed a British national was "missing, presumed dead".

Sources said the boy's parents, who are staying at the New Zealand High Commission in Samoa, had managed to swim to safety and raise the alarm.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Queen spoke of their sadness as the confirmed death toll reached 99.

Authorities said 63 people had died in Samoa, 30 in American Samoa and six in Tonga.

Thousands of people were left homeless as entire communities were destroyed.

Buildings were flattened and cars swept away, while a large boat was washed up alongside a road.

The FCO today issued advice urging against "all but essential travel" to the area.

The tremor, with a magnitude of between eight and 8.3, struck about 120 miles from American Samoa, a US territory.

Stephen Rogers, the British honorary consul in Samoa, said there were no reports of any further British casualties.

Dr Rogers, who is based in Apia, northern Samoa, said the entire island had been shaken by the initial earthquake.

"It was a very big earthquake and the tsunami came about 20 to 30 minutes later," said Dr Rogers.

"It took anything in its path. Roads have been pretty much washed away. Houses have been washed away or knocked down."

Samoan prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said some people had managed to flee before the towering wave hit.

"Thankfully, the alarm sounded on the radio and gave people time to climb to higher ground," he said. "But not everyone escaped."

He added: "So much has gone. So many people are gone. I'm so shocked, so saddened by all the loss."

Governor Togiola Tulafono said a member of his extended family was among the dead in American Samoa.

"Each and every family is going to be affected by someone who's lost their life," he said.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said two Australians had died, including a six-year-old girl.

The Samoa Red Cross opened five temporary shelters and estimated about 15,000 people were affected.

New Zealander Graeme Ansell, who witnessed the disaster, said the Samoan beach village of Sau Sau Beach Fale had been "wiped out".

"It was very quick," he said. "The whole village has been wiped out."

The earthquake lasted two to three minutes and its epicentre was about 20 miles below the ocean floor.

Several areas were expected to be without electricity for up to a month.

In separate messages to the king of Tonga, Siaosi Tupou V, and the Samoan head of state, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese, the Queen said she was "saddened" at the "tragic loss of life".

"I was very concerned to hear of the recent tsunami that has affected the south Pacific islands," she said.

She added: "I was saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life."

Labour leader Mr Brown sent his "heartfelt condolences" and added: "All of us watching these scenes will be shocked and saddened at the sheer scale of the devastation. We stand ready to help in any way we can."

The two Samoan islands and Tonga, which have a combined population of about 350,000, have grown in popularity as tourist destinations in recent years, despite their vulnerability to natural disasters.