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Samoan Tsunami Victims Turn to Faith for Support


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The death toll has reached 176 people, following last week's tsunami in the Pacific islands of Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. Cleanup and recovery efforts are under way and survivors are taking time to remember the victims. Religious services throughout the islands brought communities together Sunday.

In many of parts of this island, life seems to be back to normal. However, in the small coastal communities hit hard by the tsunami, signs of devastation and loss are everywhere. In the village of Asili, a seaside building is washed away and a memorial of flowers, a photograph and sports trophy commemorates a young victim of the tsunami.

Samoans are highly religious and many remembered the dead in Sunday services and other special memorials. They gathered in the Catholic cathedral in Apia, in the nation of Samoa and in Congregational churches in American Samoa.

They prayed in a Pentecostal church on a mountainside outside the city of Pago Pago. This is a congregation of the Assemblies of God denomination, where people worship with emotion.

In the seaside village, Leone, others filled Holy Cross Catholic church for a more somber service. Ten people in this village died and most were members of this parish. The church pastor, Monsignor Etuale Lealofi, was visiting a family when they learned that their grandmother was a victim of the tsunami.

"It was pretty hard. And, the question was, why did God take her and not us," he said.

He says that is a question he cannot answer.

Local officials say it could take months to clean up the pockets of devastation. Rebuilding will take much longer. High school teacher Vasa Siu says he reassures his students that they are safe.

"But, as far as the mood is, everybody's in a state of shock," he said. "They can't believe what's happening. We're trying to do the best that we can spiritually and emotionally, because there are so many losses."

He says that in this is a place of family and tradition. He says the islands are small and community ties are strong. People are turning to each other, and their faith, for support.

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