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Samoans Wait for Aid, Start Rebuilding

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In the villages of American Samoa struck by last week's earthquake and tsunami, residents are salvaging their belongings. Aid workers are fanning out through coastal villages and some people are taking tentative steps at rebuilding.

This stretch of coastline southwest of Pago Pago was one of the hardest hit by the tsunami, when the usually peaceful ocean sent walls of water crashing into beachside homes.

In Seetaga, Losi Fereti says she lost everything - furniture, appliances and clothing.

Most homes along the beach-front in this village have structural damage and are unlivable. Tavita Vivi has built a temporary structure next to his home. However, there is no electricity yet in this part of the village and his family is staying in an emergency shelter.

Last week's traumatic events are still fresh in his mind. He leads a visitor to the hillside where he and his family fled as the tsunami approached. They had minutes to scramble up the mountain. Vivi, his brother and cousin carried their elderly father on a section of metal fencing. They climbed to safety and put up a shelter for the night.

He says that now they are getting assistance.

"We bring the food from the government and the clothes from the Red Cross, and other people, they know and help us," said Vivi.

Some of Vivi's neighbors are also taking early steps at reconstruction.

Down the road, in Afao, Barbara Autele is struggling with losses from the tsunami. She is getting food and help from her church and is working to salvage her family's belongings, including bed sheets and clothing.

"The have sentimental value, you know. It's from my kids, when they were growing up. I just feel so mad about everything gone. It's just so much," said Autele.

Workers from the territorial government are surveying coastal households to assess the damage, and people are grateful for the help that is starting to flow in. Yet strong emotions lie just beneath the surface. Koki Meki says that her grown children in California have begged her to leave the island and join them.

As tears well up in her eyes, she says she will pray about it, but she wants her children to know that God is protecting her family and the people of the village.

Her sister-in-law, Fuatino Matmau, has no plans to move anywhere.

"This is our land and this is our family," she said. "It's hard for me to move out when we're supposed to stay here."

Many in these stricken villages say their roots are here and, in spite of the disaster, they are deeply tied to the land and people.