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Tavita Tusitala

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Samoa tsunami survivors in Lepa give thanks to life-saving bell
« on: October 05, 2009, 12:55:59 PM »
Lepa, Samoa tsunami survivors give thanks  to life-saving bell

The ringing of the church bell as the tsunami loomed on the horizon last week  saved many lives in the Samoan village of Lepa.

For the first time since the mountainous wave flattened the community of 300, the bell was sounded yesterday for a service to grieve for the village's two dead, and to give thanks for those who survived.

Across Samoa and neighbouring Western Samoa yesterday, grief-stricken survivors packed churches to mourn those who died in last week's tsunami, and to bury many of the 170 who died.

Lepa was spared the fate of many other villages on the southern coast of Samoa's main island, Upolo, which lost scores of people, many of them children.

Villagers heard the tsunami warning on the radio that followed last Wednesday's massive undersea earthquake and rang the church bells, sending people running for the hills.

Mother of eight Lasi Vea said yesterday of the church bell: "It is what brings us to church, to save our souls, but last week it saved our lives.

"We had felt the earthquake but they have happened before and no waves had come. But we know that when the bell is rung there is a tsunami warning and we have to run.

"That is what happened and we are alive, and today we are giving thanks."

Elsewhere, the church services were the first opportunity to contemplate the tragedy after days searching for survivors and bodies, and clearing up debris.

People's stoicism finally crumbled as grieving family members spoke about victims and, in some cases, their heroism.

About 600 people packed into the Congregational Christian Church in Lalomanu, one of the worst-hit villages.

Lalomanu chief Tavaga Failauga Gase said 46 villagers - including 25 children - were killed by the tsunami.

Those who rose to speak during the three-hour service, included the Taufua family, which lost 13 members - including three children.

Tavaga said it was the first time since the tsunami that the village had united to share its grief.

"Family are so important and the unity of each extended family coming together in this time to comfort those who are deeply sad and have lost," he said.

Tevilagi Purcell, who lost her mother and brother, said the community had until yesterday been unable to come together.

"It is very important, this is a very close community and people have been in hospital, searching for family members or cleaning up and haven't stopped to grieve together," she said.

"I have lost the two people that I was closest to. The burials have had to be quick, it is so sad, so terrible, all of it."

Tevilagi's brother, Anesone Tafi, 33, was swept away as he tried to save their ageing mother. At the service his daughter, Manufou, wore angel wings as she held up a photo of her dead father.



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