Lalomanu: Grief-stricken Samoans have poured into churches to mourn the victims of the devastating tsunami that killed more than 170 people in their nation and surrounding Pacific islands.
About 600 people packed into the Congregational Christian Church in Lalomanu on Sunday, one of the worst-hit villages on the south coast of Upolu, the more heavily populated of the country`s two main islands.
Lalomanu village chief Tavaga Failauga Gase said that 46 people -- including 25 children -- from his village had been killed when the tsunami swept ashore on Tuesday following an 8.0 magnitude quake.
"This is the first time so many people are filling this building," Tavaga said.
"We are all here together to witness what`s happened in our place for the first time in our history and the first time in our generation."
Tavaga said the service marked the first time since the tsunami the community had been able to come together to express its grief.
"Family are so important and the unity of each extended family coming together in this time to comfort those who are deeply sad and have lost."
"This is a time to thank God not only for those who are lost, but the rest who are still alive," he added.
In an emotion-charged service, relatives from New Zealand and Australia joined people from the village of 700 people.
Among them were members of the Taufua family, who lost 13 relatives in the disaster.
The emotional services were repeated in devout Christian villages throughout Samoa and Pacific island neighbours American Samoa and Tonga, which shared the destruction brought by the tsunami.
The earthquake and resulting tsunami left 135 dead and eight missing in Samoa, 32 dead in neighbouring American Samoa and nine dead in Tonga. Related article: Samoa`s tsunami lessons
New Zealand`s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Monday the number of its citizens confirmed killed in Samoa had risin by two to seven.
New Zealanders and Australians were among foreigners holidaying at popular beach resorts on the south coast of Upolu.
Meanwhile, relief efforts continued in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga, where thousands have been left homeless by the devastation.
Australia has sent 88 medical and search personnel to assist and a New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757 landed in Samoa on Saturday carrying police dog search teams and medical experts.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key saw the devastation in Samoa for himself on Friday and said restoring water and sanitation were priorities in the recovery effort.
Rebuilding houses would also be important, with the extent of the devastation more widespread than initially estimated, he said on Monday.
"The early indications I have are that the total rebuild could be more expensive than first thought, maybe in the order of 200 million New Zealand dollars (USD 143 million)," Key told Radio New Zealand.
In Tonga, where the government said nearly 300 families had been left homeless by the tsunami on the three northern Niua islands, an Australian aircraft arrived Sunday with relief supplies.
More relief supplies were due to arrive Monday on a French military ship and Tongan patrol vessel, the Tongan government said.