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Originally published September 30, 2009 at 12:14 AM | Page modified September 30, 2009 at 12:04 PM

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Puget Sound's Samoan community awaits news

Members of the local Samoan community are waiting anxiously for news from home. According to news reports, phone lines in Samoa and American Samoa are down, and communication has been restricted since a major earthquake early Tuesday followed by a tsunami that claimed dozens of lives.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Members of the local Samoan community are waiting anxiously for news from home.

"We've been trying to call. We haven't been able to get through," Betty Patu, a longtime South Seattle resident and leader in the city's Samoan community, said Tuesday night.

Patu, a Seattle School Board candidate who retired this year after more than 32 years as a school-district employee, and her husband, Von Tresckow Patu, had been unable to contact family members in American Samoa.

According to news reports, phone lines in Samoa and American Samoa are down, and communication has been restricted since a major earthquake, followed by a tsunami, claimed dozens of lives.

Patu's husband has relatives who live along the ocean and operate a grocery business in Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa.

"We couldn't even get through to cellphone numbers," said Patu, who said she last visited relatives in American Samoa in 1998. "We have a lot of family there, and we're trying to get ahold of them to see what's happening. We're pretty concerned."

The Seattle-Tacoma area's Samoan community, numbering about 25,000, according to Patu, is perhaps the third-largest in the nation, behind Hawaii and California.

"A lot of us are waiting to find out what's happening with our families," Patu said.

"It's been a nail-biter, just praying and waiting for news from back home," said the Rev. Washington Talaga, pastor of the Jubilee Christian Center, a bilingual congregation on South Mead Street in Seattle's Rainier Beach area. The church has upward of 250 members, many with family ties to Samoa and American Samoa.

The pastor's wife has two brothers in American Samoa.

"I know that she's very concerned, not knowing who the victims are, or what the situation is in her family," he said. They'd had no communication with family from back home, either.

Talaga said the congregation had not yet mobilized any aid efforts for victims, "but I'm sure the church is going to try to do something."

Charles E. Brown: 206-464-2206 or cbrown@seattletimes.com

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