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October 6, 2009

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Survivors pray for families lost in tsunami

HUNDREDS of survivors of the Samoan tsunami gathered at a church on high ground to mourn lost relatives, while pledging to rebuild their obliterated communities after a disaster that killed 177 people.

The Congregational Christian Church of Lalomanu was packed with about 1,000 people, including relatives from Australia and New Zealand and rescue workers, for a belated funeral service on Sunday for 52 friends and loved ones. A national prayer service also was held in neighboring American Samoa.

Outside the church in Lalomanu, the bereaved hugged and wept. Failuga Gase, whose home was destroyed, cried silently for four family members.

"It's a special occasion to memorialize those" who died, the father of three told The Associated Press. "In our usual way, we have a grave ceremony for those who have died, one by one."

The losses were inflicted when tsunami waves roared ashore after an underwater earthquake struck last Tuesday with a magnitude of up to 8.3. The death toll rose by one on Sunday to 136 in Samoa after officials identified decomposed human remains, government spokeswoman Vaosa Epa said. Thirty-two people were killed in American Samoa, and nine in nearby Tonga.

The church in Lalomanu was unscathed by the giant wave, because it is built on higher ground than the many beachside homes that were destroyed.

One woman said her family lost their mother but was grateful for the survival of other members.

Luluu Berns said her sister, brother-in-law and their seven children had all survived, although at one point the 16-month-old youngest child was missing.

"Five hours later, they found this little boy on the beach," she said. "He was face down and the father found him and brought him up and shook him a little and he was still alive."


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