American Samoa holds national special prayer

LEONE: Mourning islanders of American Samoa were set to hold a national prayer service today for victims of the tsunami that obliterated villages on the shores of the South Pacific and left at least 176 dead.

Territorial Governor Togiola Tulafono said yesterday the service will bring the community together in the aftermath of the disaster. It will be held at the headquarters of the Congregational Christian Church of America Samoa, the largest religious denomination in the US territory.

Families are still coming to terms with the sudden losses inflicted by Tuesday’s tsunami waves that roared ashore after an underwater earthquake with a magnitude of up to 8.3. The disaster claimed at least 176 lives, in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga.

In Samoa, scores of grieving people made a heartbreaking decision to sign over victims of the tsunami to the state for burial rather than take them back to ravaged villages for traditional funerals - a radical departure from Samoan tradition.

Government minister Fiana Naomi said Saturday she expected about half of Samoa’s 135 victims would be buried in mass graves of up to 20 in a new cemetery in the capital Apia on Thursday following a memorial service in a nearby sports stadium. The state would carry the costs.

“The government sees the devastated areas, there are no buildings there, some villages might be relocated, people have lost everything and they can’t hold ceremonies in the usual ways,” Naomi said. “Usually they’re very large communal ceremonies, but this is memorialising this event to serve as a constant reminder to us that we need to be prepared for natural disasters.” Leaders were concerned about the bodies rotting in the city’s overcrowded morgue.