Oahu woman shares her family's loss in Samoa tsunami - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Oahu woman shares her family's loss in Samoa tsunami

Leilani Purcell-Tausa Leilani Purcell-Tausa

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

RED HILL (KHNL) - The death toll in Samoa rose to 176 people on Sunday. Villagers flocked to church, mourning the lives lost.

And sharing that grief, are members of Hawaii's Samoan community, including a woman on Oahu who lost seven of her relatives.

At Red Hill Elementary School's cafeteria, there was an illuminating tribute and a moment of silence for victims of the Samoa tsunami.

Members of the Methodist Church of Samoa gathered there for their regular Sunday service, with heavy hearts for their loved ones back home.

Among those struggling to cope with the devastation, is Leilani Purcell-Tausa of Ewa Beach.

She says her 70-year-old mom barely escaped death. She was clinging onto a tree when the tsunami hit. Fortunately, the violent wave receded into the ocean in time for Purcell-Tausa's mother to catch her breath.

"Like about one to two minutes longer, she would've drowned," said Purcell-Tausa.

Purcell-Tausa was in Samoa just two weeks ago, visiting her family.

"I went to visit my mom, because I grew up at my dad's side of the family, but I went to visit my mom, I spent time with her and then I went over to my dad's family and I stayed there," she said.

Purcell-Tausa's family is from Aleipata, one of the worst hit villages. The tsunami killed three of her cousins, two aunts, and two nephews. The youngest was just 10 years old.

"I didn't realize that that was the last time I would ever see these people, my family," said Purcell-Tausa.

But here at church, Purcell-Tausa says she finds some comfort.

"That helps me a little to hold back my tears and sometimes you really question this," she said.

A question overshadowed by faith, providing strength to cope with loss, and a glimmer of hope for those whose loved ones have yet to be found.

Purcell-Tausa will fly out to American Samoa on Friday to help her mom and surviving relatives who are now homeless.

Also, the Red Cross announced it will deploy twelve more volunteer nurses and mental health workers.

They'll leave the Coast Guard Air Station at Barbers Point on Monday at 7:30 a.m.

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