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American Samoa marks anniversary of 2009 tsunami

By Fili Sagapolutele

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 6:34 a.m. HST, Sep 29, 2013

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa >> American Samoa is marking four years since tsunami waves killed 34 people in the U.S. territory and more than 100 in neighboring Samoa.

Leone village, which lost two elementary school students and seven other residents in the disaster, will float 100 lanterns in the ocean today to remember those who passed away.

"Each lantern will bear individual prayers and personal moments to be remembered of their beloved family members and friends that were taken in the tsunami tragedy," said Ipu Avegalio-Lefiti, one of the village organizers.

Victims will also be remembered during church services territory-wide.

Towering waves hit American Samoa on Sept. 29, 2009, some 15 to 20 minutes after a magnitude 8.0 earthquake shook the Samoan islands.

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said the tsunami left him with lasting memories that periodically "flash through my mind."

He abandoned his car on the main road in Pago Pago village and ran for higher ground as waves hit the territorial capital that morning.

The tsunami taught lessons about the "resilience and the power of the human spirit," said Moliga, who was president of the government-owned Development Bank of American Samoa at the time.

The tsunami reawakened the people of American Samoa to the power and the ferocity of natural forces, he said.

"The series of waves which hit the territory, not only indiscriminately destroyed property, but simultaneously devastated our hearts and souls with agonizing pain and sorrow for 34 of our loved ones, who were forever swept away from this life," Moliga said.

Territorial leaders call the tsunami the "worst disaster" in American Samoa's history.

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