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Friday, November 28, 2014         

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Quake victims remembered

Commemorations will mark the anniversary of a tsunami that raked the Pacific islands

By Dan Nakaso

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Village and church bells will ring 34 times tomorrow across American Samoa in remembrance of the 34 lives lost when a series of earthquake-driven waves began pounding the island territory one year ago at 6:48 a.m.

In Honolulu, 2,600 miles away, Roshian Lafaele will be finalizing plans to return home to American Samoa on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the deaths of her cousin and two aunts in the deadly tsunami.

"People are getting back to their routines," said Lafaele, a 23-year-old graduate student at Hawaii Pacific University, "but it's still hard."

Officially, the territorial government received more than $1.2 million in donations from around the world to help the people of American Samoa recover from the Sept. 29, 2009, tsunami, said Vincent Iuli, spokesman for American Samoa Gov. Togiola Tulafono.

But there is no way of measuring how much in individual "alofa" monetary donations came directly from Samoans in Hawaii to their families back home.

"Alofa is love, and a lot of individuals here have sent alofa to help their individual families," said Rowena Reid, who teaches Samoan language at Brigham Young University-Hawaii in Laie and has family in both American Samoa and Independent Samoa. "How do you quantify that?"

Samoan clergy in Honolulu were finalizing plans for their services tomorrow.

The Rev. Sebastian Chacko, head of the Samoan Catholic Community of Hawaii, expects to see about 200 congregants tomorrow at 7 p.m. for a special Mass "for those who died."

Chacko will select scripture passages "that reflect hardships that people of faith have to endure and how we remember the dead throughout our prayers for them," he said.

His message to those who mourn will be simple: "While people may blame God for natural calamities, it is beyond our understanding," Chacko said. "We learn through other people's problems that life is not easy. But we will continue to do the best we can."

More than 200 people in American Samoa, Independent Samoa and Tonga were killed when an 8.0 magnitude, undersea earthquake spawned waves as high as 46 feet that toppled buildings, washed away cars and trucks and reached more than 700 yards inland.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency "is rebuilding most of the homes at no cost to the homeowner," Iuli said. "They had the option of taking $30,000 cash and rebuilding yourself or accepting the project plans and FEMA and would pay for the whole thing, although they probably will have to relocate."

Gov. Tulafono has declared tomorrow a territorial holiday, and the American Samoan office in Honolulu also will be closed, said Deputy Director Filipo Ilaoa.

In American Samoa, church services will begin at 6 a.m. tomorrow. At 6:48 a.m., villages and churches will synchronize their bells to begin ringing 34 times to coincide with the first waves that hit one year ago, Iuli said.

Then at 9 a.m. government officials will break ground on a "9/29 memorial park" on government land in the village of Vaitogi, Iuli said.

At 9 a.m. Hawaii time, Tiva Aga will be thanking third- and fourth-graders at Punahou School who "put together loads and loads of books, school supplies and T-shirts for the elementary children of Samoa," Aga said.

She lost an aunt, a cousin and her cousin's 10-year-old son in the tsunami and wants to let the Punahou students know that their efforts were appreciated.

She will be joined by state Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo-Waikele), who was born in American Samoa and visited family there two weeks before the tsunami.

"It was surreal to see all the footage of the devastation in the same villages we had just been in," Gabbard said.

Paina Mikaele, president of the Samoan Club at BYU-Hawaii, believes those images and the loss of lives can never be forgotten.

"It's important to remember this great tragedy," Mikaele said. "A lot of loved ones, a lot of lives were lost. It will never be forgotten."





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