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Weekend events honor 2009 tsunami victims and survivors

Names of the 34 victims killed in the 2009 tsunami were read and a moment of silence was observed to remember the victims and pay tribute to the survivors during Saturday’s tsunami memorial service, organized by the Rotary Club of Pago Pago and Hawaiian Airlines with the support of the Department of Parks and Recreation. .


The event was held at the Tsunami Picnic Shelter, where a plaque and monument was erected three years ago to remember the victims of the worst disaster in the history of American Samoa.  The monument is a joint project of Rotary and Hawaiian Air.


“Today is about healing,” Rev. Iasepi Ulu of the CCCAS Fagatogo told the gathering. “Though we come together as strangers, we trust the spirit of the Lord is with us.”


“As we look back and reflect on the event of Sept. 29, 2009 it’s important that we remember the lives of those loved ones tragically taken from us,” he said during the 90-minute ceremony where many times there herd was very emotional testimony from family members who lost loved ones 4 years ago.


 “Though some of us are still trying to make sense of... the sudden loss, we are thankful, as the sun sets, the dawning of a new day brings hope, brings life, and peace to us all,” he said.


“In times such as these, I’m reminded of the burden that Job shouldered when he learned that he has lost his children, his livelihood and was left with nothing,” he pointed out. “Despite the loss and pain the Bible explains that Job knelt to the ground, and he worshiped God...”


“The Lord gives and the Lord taketh away. May the name of the Lord be praised,” he declared.


“How can someone praise God in such conditions. Who has the strength to honor the Lord, when something precious has been ripped from Job,” he said. “It would certainly be a challenge to anyone, but his faith in God was unwavering. He was pressured by his friends to give up to curse God… but Job remained steadfast, he remained resilient in the face of hardship.”


Because of his faithfulness, God blessed the later part of Job’s life more than he ever had, said Ulu.


He told the audience that being a resilient community, “means using your energy productively to move ahead in the face of adversity. I think we have all grown strongly spiritually, emotionally, and positively appreciating life more of the small things that we often take for granted, enjoying the importance of family.”


Human and Social Service Department (DHSS) director Taeaoafua Dr. Meki Solomona represented the government and he thanked the Rotary Club and Hawaiian Air for this special ceremony to remember and honor those who were “taken from us on that fateful day.”


“This is one part of life it’s hard to accept, because when a loved one is taken, it’s difficult to accept,” said Taeaoafua who was emotional during his remarks, saying at the beginning of his remarks that he is not good at these types of events because “I have a soft heart” but he was “re-energized” by the speech by Rev. Ulu as well as the Christian music sung by a four member special group from CCCAS Fagatogo.


Before the September 2009 earthquake and tsunami, Taeaoafua said in the territory, “we had a nonchalant attitude about these natural disasters.”


He shared that he knew some of the victims of the tsunami from his home-village of Leone. He recalled that when the village aumaga told the village that the tsunami was coming, some of them appeared not concerned, saying to the aumaga, “You have small faith.”


He said the lives taken on that day, four years ago, is a reminder to everyone that when the signs are there following a quake, it’s time to move to higher ground.


Taeaoafua recalled the morning the quake occurred and he was on his way to work at StarKist Samoa. He was at a gas station in Nu’uuli to get a sandwich and was about to pay for it  when the quake started.


And when the shaking went on for more than 30 seconds, he said he knew something was coming soon - referring to the tsunami. He threw away his sandwich and got back into his car “and I sped all the way to the cannery. And before I hit the parking lot, I knew it. I could hear the radios announcing -  it’s coming, it’s coming” referring to the tsunami.


He says September is also recovery month for DHSS, and “we are celebrating and working very hard on recovery” which is  “not only for disasters, but we’re also trying to turn around the lives of those who are substance abuse [users], underage drinking, and today we are honoring those who perished” four years ago.


(At Friday’s DHSS building dedication ceremony a moment of silence was observed as a tribute to the victims of the tsunami.)


To the families of the tsunami victims - “Be brave”, he said, adding, “Days like this are not easy”. He said, “Our loved ones have moved on to a better place, but they are not forgotten. They will never be forgotten.”


He also said that he brings with him a special message from Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, and Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga - expressing their condolences to the families and for the families to be strong and be brave.


In closing, he asked the audience to pray for blessings for the Rotary and Hawaiian Air, as “for them to put together this program is very touching Thank you Rotarians, thank you Hawaiian Airlines.”


More in tomorrow’s Samoa News edition.