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American Samoa remembers the Sept. 29, 2009 Tsunami disaster

It killed 34 people in American Samoa, 3 of which were never found

Although American Samoa has recovered physically through repairs of damaged properties following the September 2009 tsunami, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga says the pain continues to linger within the heart of family members who lost loved ones.

Seven years ago today — on Sept. 29, 2009 at 6:38 a.m. — a strong 8.1 earthquake shook the Samoan islands and some 15 to 20 minutes later was followed by the most devastating tsunami ever to hit the Samoan islands.

With towering waves, the tsunami killed 34 people in American Samoa, three in Tonga and more than 100 in neighboring Samoa. (Samoa and Tonga marked the tsunami anniversary yesterday, their Sept. 29, on the other side of the Dateline.) Of the victims in American Samoa, three of them were never found.

Seven years ago today, “American Samoa painfully felt excruciating sorrow over the loss of 34 of our loved ones and experienced devastating destruction of personal and public property from the savage force of the Tsunami,” Lolo said in his tsunami anniversary message.

“While we have recovered physically through the repair of damaged properties, the pain continues to linger within the hearts of family members who lost loved ones,” he said. “While time will heal, the memory will remain forever in the hearts of the people of American Samoa.”

Governor Lolo said this distressful experience “should heighten our sense of vigilance and resiliency in make sure that we continually make certain that our families are amply prepared for any type of disaster.”

He called on individual families to develop escape plans and other secondary plans in the event a disaster exceeds projected severity. Families should also heed the disaster preparation recommendations from the local Department of Homeland Security.

“Let us remember the souls of the loved ones in our prayers and especially beseeching God to soothe the hearts of families pained by this tragedy,” he said.

The governor has already declared Sept. 24- 30 as Tsunami Awareness and Preparation Week in American Samoa, and noted in his declaration the number of lives lost in the tsunami, which caused millions of dollars of damage along the territory’s coast.

“Education, preparedness and warning systems, such as the Emergency Alert System, played a vital role in reducing losses as they have in past natural emergency events,” the governor said.

“I encourage all residents of American Samoa to learn more about the tsunami threat and take steps, as appropriate, to secure their lives, properties against future tsunami,” he said.

As part of tsunami awareness week, the Department of Homeland Security has been conducting since Monday this week, evacuation drills for five public schools along the coastline.

Samoa News has learned that families of the 34 victims will be holding their own family memorial service to remember their loved ones, but there has been no word that the government is planning an island-wide service, as of press time.

Additionally, Samoa News was unable to confirm if the village of Leone will hold a memorial service today at the Healing Garden. Nine residents, including two children from Leone perished in the tsunami and the Healing Garden was created in their memory.

Last Saturday, the Rotary Club of Pago Pago and Hawaiian Airlines hosted the annual Memorial Remembrance Service for the victim's immediate family members at the Tsunami Memorial Family Picnic Shelter at Lions Park in Tafuna. Lt. Gov. Lemanu P. Mauga and First Lady Cynthia Moliga were special guests at the event.

More photos of the 2009 tsunami disaster in slideshow.