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Devastated Village in American Samoa Recovers From Tsunami


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At least 170 people have been confirmed dead following last week's earthquake and tsunami in the Pacific Islands of Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. Some towns escaped with minor damage, but other seaside villages were devastated. Mike O'Sullivan visited the village of Leone in American Samoa, and reports that the community has pulled together in the disaster's aftermath.

Leone was hit hard by the tsunami. Last Tuesday, the usually peaceful ocean surged into a mountain of water that swept through the scenic seaside village, on the southwest side of the main island.

Angela Laumoli, a high school vice principal, says the 3,000 villagers are drawing on ties of kinship, friendship, and church membership to get through the trauma.

"We are going to commit all our day hours today to help clean up so that at least whatever we can save, we can save," said Laumoli. "And we need to clean up so that they can come and build new residential places for our families here."

Fiu John Saelua, a hereditary village chief, says the devastation is widespread and the recovery will be daunting. At least 10 villagers have died. He says residents found six bodies on the day of the tsunami.

"We found three the next day, and then there's still one missing up to now," said Saelua.

One of the injured also died in the hospital. A downtown post office and market were destroyed.

Leone is full of churches, including the first on the island, a Congregational church founded by a British missionary in the 1800s. Church member Moana Aumavai says the damage was minor.

"There was just debris and ocean water that went in," said Aumavai.

A nearby school is still standing, and the local Catholic church also suffered only minor damage.

Residents who are coping with the ravages of nature say the bonds of community are helping them recover. Dozens came to the beach to sift through piles of clothes and textiles, truck tires and personal belongings. Nearby, others are cleaning out partially collapsed homes and buildings, including the beach structures used for traditional ceremonies. Eighteen-year-old college student Jolin Filemoni says the effort has brought her closer to her family.

"We've been praying a lot," said Filemoni. "You know, these things happen for a reason, for families to come together."

As officials assess the damage, Chief Fiu John Saelua says people of the village are optimistic, despite their losses.

"The spirit is high, back to normal," added Saelua. "The whole village has pulled together to help each other. It's going to take months."

But, he insists, the village of Leone will recover.