Prayer service set for Samoan victims

LEONE, American Samoa — Taitasi Suapaia Fitiao is preparing for every parent's nightmare — burying her young child.

Her 6-year-old daughter, Vaijoresa, was ripped from her arms as an enormous wave from Tuesday's tsunami swept them up. As she floated away, out of reach, Vaijoresa pleaded, "Mommy, please."

"I just can't believe that she's gone. At such a young age, you know? No parent should have to bury their child. It's supposed to be the other way around," Taitasi Fitiao said Saturday while sitting on her front porch next to a shrine to her daughter.

Funerals are being held with frequency these days in American Samoa and neighboring Samoa, where tsunami waves roared ashore after an earthquake with a magnitude of up to 8.3 in the Pacific Ocean, killing at least 170 people.

A national prayer service for victims and survivors is scheduled for today at the headquarters of the Congregational Christian Church of America Samoa, the largest religious denomination in the U.S. territory.

Territorial Gov. Togiola Tulafono said Saturday the service will bring the community together in the aftermath of the disaster.

In Samoa, scores of grieving people made the decision Saturday to sign over victims of the tsunami to the state for burial rather than take them back to ravaged villages for traditional funerals.

Government ministers told a congregation of 100 village and family leaders in a traditional wallless Samoan meeting house that the state would carry the costs of mass graves of up to 20 in a new cemetery in the capital Apia on Thursday following a memorial service in a nearby sports stadium.

The proposition was voluntary and the government will consider financial assistance to grieving relatives who elect to take their loved ones home.