Samoans unite in mourning lives lost in killer tsunami | world | Hindustan Times
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Samoans unite in mourning lives lost in killer tsunami

Wails of grief rang from the church in Samoa's tsunami-devastated Lalomanu on Sunday, as hundreds of villagers gathered to mourn their dead and the loss of almost everything dear to them.

world Updated: Oct 06, 2009 11:00 IST

Wails of grief rang from the church in Samoa's tsunami-devastated Lalomanu on Sunday, as hundreds of villagers gathered to mourn their dead and the loss of almost everything dear to them.

From the hills, makeshift camps and hospitals they came together in prayer -- one woman in a wheelchair, her ankle bandaged and cuts still healing from an ordeal that stole her father, sister, and 11 other members of her family.

Those who could wore their white Sunday best, others wore whatever donated clothes they had. Embracing on the steps, and with hands firmly clasped, those who lost everything gathered to give thanks.

"We come together to dedicate this special service in memory of our people who lost their lives in the tsunami," the Reverend Isaia Tiatia told an overflowing Congregational Christian Church.

Perched on a hill atop the sleepy tourist town, Lalomanu's church was unscathed by Tuesday's quake and tidal wave which killed 46 here, including 25 children. But through its arched windows a landscape of waste stretches down to the ocean.

Those who had time ran to the church for refuge, but for some families and guests of the beachfront bungalows they could not think of escape until it was too late.

More than 600 people packed through the doors for a special ceremony which village chief Tavaga Failauga Gase described as a kind of funeral for the people of Lalomanu.

"It is a chance for those who have lost loved ones to say a few kind loving words for those who have passed," he told AFP.

"We are all here together to witness what's happened in our place, for the first time in our history and the first time in our generation. This is a time to thank God, not only for those who are lost but the rest who are still alive."

Their names were recited and their photographs affixed to the lapels of the living, who rose to pay tribute to their loved ones.

Five-year-old Manufou Tafia bravely made her way to the altar, dressed in white with a pair of fairy wings attached and clutching a photo of her father, Anisone, who was taken by the tsunami, along with her younger sister.

Overcome with emotion as the congregation's voices rose in song, the women of the Taufua family wept openly for their loss. They buried 13 this week -- the youngest just eight months old.

Now in hospital with two broken arms, the baby's mother Sina struggled desperately for almost an hour to keep her daughter's head above water before she was forced to let her go by the relentless waves and debris.

Two other of her children, Uena, three, and Jesasa, eight, were also killed.

In the procession of grief, however, local woman Luluu Berns offered a "miracle" story of hope.

Five hours after the tsunami passed, a one-year-old boy -- Daniel -- was found face-down in the sand by rescuers. As they lifted his tiny body he made a sound. "He was alive," Burns said.

Red Cross volunteers, Australian rescue workers and New Zealand army troops sat quietly at the back, some visibly moved by the community's outpouring of grief.