Tacoma man turns Samoan tragedy into cause




Posted on October 6, 2009 at 11:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 14 at 4:13 PM

Video: Tacoma man turns Samoan tragedy into cause

SEATTLE - It was a disaster of far-reaching proportions.

The waves were big and strong, and did damage from the South Pacific to the South Sound.

"Mom rode out the biggest wave they could muster up, and she surfed to the sunset with that."

That's how Lui Leasiolagi, of Tacoma, describes what happened to his mother last Tuesday.

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Eighty-two-year-old Aienamulemauosamoamailevaomaoa "Aienamu" Leasiolagi was at a senior center in Pago Pago, when an 8-magnitude earthquake rumbled the South Pacific, and created a Tsunami with 20-foot-tall waves.

Lui says her senior center was washed away before anyone had time to react. Her body was recovered a day later.

"She raised 12 boys and three girls. She was a gracious, lively person." says Lui, "She just reminded us to keep smiling, it would be okay."

Wednesday, the Tacoma businessman will fly to American Samoa to bury his mother. After that, he says, he hopes to focus on rebuilding his childhood home country.

He believes, as do others relief organizers, that construction materials will be vital to the immediate recovery of the American territory.

"Some of the villages we saw are completely gone," says Lina Thompson of Federal Way-based World Vision, who is now on the ground in American Samoa. "I mean homes, and churches, and schools."

Leasiolagi says he's now working with local churches to organize the effort, which he believes could take years.

"This is tough times," he says, "but tough times never last. It's tough people that do."