Bleak Christmas for many Samoans in tsunami's wake
Mekala Tainano lost two children -- two-year-old Lutia and 10 year-old Losivale -- when towering waves smashed into Samoa, killing 143 people.
A further 43 lives were lost in neighbouring American Samoa and Tonga.
"My three kids are always asking if Losivale and Lutia will come home for Christmas," she said.
"My husband and I are trying our best to be happy for our other kids. But our family feels incomplete without them and our Christmas joy will always be incomplete."
The Tainano family lives in Lepa village in the southeast of Upolu island, the area that bore the brunt of the devastating waves.
The tsunami followed an 8.0 magnitude quake that struck just before seven o'clock on the morning of September 29.
Many people knew to head for higher ground as the quake -- centred 193 kilometres (120 miles) south of the Samoan capital Apia -- shook the ground violently.
But others were caught by the three big waves that swept ashore just 10 minutes after the quake, smashing villages and tourist resorts along the coast.
The biggest wave was 14 metres (46 feet) high when it hit the shore and crashed as far as 700 metres inland, according to New Zealand government scientists.
Three months later many displaced villagers remain in temporary shelters built amongst the plantations in the hills behind the lagoon-side villages.
Tainano said her family has used compensation money to rebuild their house inland.
"I don't want to lose any more of my children," she said.
Another villager, Sarai Fatialofa said her family was still trying to recover from the disaster, which destroyed the family home.
"The tsunami took not only my house, but also my 12-year-old Christmas tree and its decorations. So in other words it took away my Christmas spirit," Fatialofa said.
Fatialofa said her family had no plans to rebuild by the sea.
"We have seen the effects of natural disasters. It is better to search for a place where life is safer."
The debris has been cleared from many coastal areas but parts of the island are still strewn with smashed vegetation and building materials, abandoned by inhabitants who have no intention of returning.
Aid has poured into Samoa and foreign governments and charity organisations are providing funds and materials for rebuilding the estimated 600 homes that were demolished or badly damaged.
Progress has been slow but four of the first houses built by Catholic charity group Caritas were completed this month. Some of the labour is being provided by volunteers from New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere overseas.
Power lines are being built along roads heading to the new inland settlements and there are plans for water to be piped there.
Upolu's southeast was also a popular area with tourists, many of whom stayed in thatched beachside huts, known as fales.
Eighteen resorts and family-run tourist properties were destroyed by the killer waves, and the Samoan government has said getting the area's tourist industry back on its feet is a priority.
Deputy Prime Minister and Tourism Minister Misa Telefoni said last week that rebuilding of the resorts was already under way.
The government is providing tourism operators with free building materials to speed up the recovery, helped by a six million US dollar donation from the New Zealand government.
Despite the locals' reluctance to return to the shoreline, the fales will be back on the beach.
Part of the appeal to visitors is sleeping just metres from the water, said Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale of the exclusive Sinalei resort.
"It's part of our package," Tuatagaloa said.
Copyright (c) 2009 Agence France Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 12/22/2009 23:52:22
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