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Local Samoan community starts organizing relief efforts after tsunami

Those in Southern California, many who live in the South Bay and Long Beach areas, tried to call relatives on the island and met at churches to pray and collect donations.

September 30, 2009|Louis Sahagun and Robert J. Lopez

A sense of urgency spread across Southern California's tight-knit Samoan community in the aftermath of a powerful earthquake and tsunami that killed at least 34 people and destroyed homes in American Samoa.

A number of Samoans, many of whom live in the South Bay and Long Beach areas, rushed home to call relatives after hearing news of the devastation. Others gathered in somber meetings at area churches to begin organizing donation and relief efforts.

"Tonight, we are all in prayer mode," said Ed Lalau, 40, a Carson resident and member of the United Samoan Congregational Church in Carson. "Everyone here has relatives back in the islands."

Faufau Alaelua, 45, wife of the church's pastor, said she frantically tried during the day to reach relatives in areas that were overrun by the massive walls of water. She said she was able to reach some relatives, who were safe, but had yet to hear from others.

"We know that some of our relatives live in some of the villages that were hard hit," Alaelua said as she fought back tears. "Some people who lived in villages near the ocean were killed in their houses."

Maina Faiai was working at her job as a clerk in a store in El Segundo when she found out about the devastation. Concerned about her more than 100 relatives on the island, Faiai said, she rushed home to begin making phone calls.

"I told my boss I can't work," she said. A number of her relatives lost homes in their village near Pago Pago, she said.

Pastor Malaki Tauiliili of the Samoan Congregational Christian Church of South Los Angeles said his 500 to 700 members have many relatives in the Pago Pago and Fagatogo areas, which were hit by heavy flooding.

"It's a very somber mood here," Tauiliili said.

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louis.sahagun@latimes.com

robert.lopez@latimes.com

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