Accessibility links

Death Toll Rises in Pacific Islands, Families Cope with Losses from Tsunami

<!-- IMAGE -->

Relief efforts are continuing in the Pacific islands of Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga, where the death toll is approaching 200 from Tuesday's earthquake and tsunami. Seaside communities are burying their dead and coming to grips with their losses.

The people of American Samoa are starting to clean up as they cope with their vivid memories. Mormon Church official Stu Uiagalelei was teaching a children's class when the earthquake struck.

"It was one of the mornings I'll never forget," he said.

Uiagalelei and his students fled to higher ground as the tsunami overturned cars and buses and sent a yacht skimming over a football field. A yacht lies wedged in front of his church. He says he watched people die, and rescued a Korean immigrant, but later discovered that bodies had washed up behind his church.

"As soon as we got up there, that's when the tsunami came. I was out there watching the whole thing passing by my eyes," he recalled.

In some hard-hit coastal regions, whole families were killed by the crushing tsunami. Juliette Foster knew one family - a shopkeeper, his wife and children. All of them, she thinks, were killed in the tsunami.

She says every family has a story.

"I lost my aunt down on the other end of the island. They found her the same day, but we're still looking for my 12-year-old niece. We haven't found her yet, and I'm hoping we will soon," she said.

Sales clerk Tamuli Farami escaped with her eight children, but says the losses in these islands touch everyone.

"Some are relatives. Some are friends and neighbors. Some people they found in the road, and also in the streams, some on the side of the stores, so I feel sorry for those people," said Farami.

Rescue and recovery workers have come from around the world, and in American Samoa, people like Ben Raju of the U.S. Small Business Administration are preparing to make low-interest loans to homeowners, renters and business people.

"When the long-term recovery aspect of it is reached, that's when individuals will be focusing on long-term recovery such as rebuilding and re-establishing themselves to the way that they were prior to the disaster," he said.

Juliette Foster assesses the damage to her truck and home, as she tries to comfort her children.

""They're always asking me every night, mommy, are we going to die? Is it going to come again? Is this the end of the world?" she asked.

Commerce and everyday life are slowly getting back to normal on these peaceful Pacific islands, but people say the wounds will take time to heal.