Samoan Church Draws 1,000 Mourners for Tsunami Victims

( [email protected] ) Oct 05, 2009 05:13 AM EDT

About 1,000 people attended a funeral service at a church located in the formerly picturesque coastal city of Lalomanu, Samoa, Sunday to pay their last respects for those who died in the recent tsunami.

The service at Congregational Christian Church for 52 victims drew people from the Samoas – islands located in the South Pacific Ocean – as well as mourners from nearby Australia and New Zealand, according to The Associated Press.

Though much of the city’s coastline had been destroyed by the giant waves, the church was left untouched because it was built on higher ground.

Hundreds of Samoans also gathered in the capital city, Apia, for a memorial service organized by most of the country’s Christian denominations. Included among the participants was the country’s prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele.

Samoa is known to be a devout Christian nation, whose population mainly includes Congregationalists, Roman Catholics, and Methodists, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Meanwhile in neighboring American Samoa, a U.S. territory, about 1,000 people gathered for a prayer service at the Congregational Christian Church in Tafuna.

The city’s Gov. Togiola Tulafono said, "We can give thanks to the Lord for the blessings we received through this catastrophe. Although there were so many lives lost because of it, in retrospect, God has spared so many more," according to AP.

At least 177 people were killed by last Tuesday’s tsunami that was caused by an 8.3-magnitude underwater earthquake. As of Sunday, the death toll was 136 in Samoa, 32 people in neighboring American Samoa, and nine in nearby Tonga.

Aid groups are rushing supplies to support the tsunami survivors in the Samoas.

Christian Reformed World Relief Committee reported that its disaster response director is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide skilled volunteers for rehabilitation and reconstruction on American Samoa.

President Obama declared the territory a federal disaster area last week, the group noted, allowing for federal funding for disaster response in American Samoa as well as in the neighboring independent island of Samoa.

Currently, Samoa’s health officials are worrying about a possible outbreak of water-borne infectious disease among the country’s some 10,000 homeless tsunami survivors. Aid workers are working to provide clean water to Samoan survivors.