11 Feb 2018

Samoa and American Samoa assess Cyclone Gita damage

9:33 am on 11 February 2018

A state of disaster has been declared in Samoa as authorities focus on rescue and evacuation in the wake of Cyclone Gita.

Screenshot from a video on Facebook of floodwater on Savai'i.

Screenshot from a video on Facebook of floodwater on Savai'i. Photo: Facebook / Liyah Leyfy

The cyclone tore through the country bringing damaging winds and torrential rain but is now moving away to the south-east where it brushed Niue and is picking up strength as it heads towards Tonga.

Ulu Bismarck Crawley, head of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said the entire country had been affected, but worst hit were the north coast and riverways prone to flooding.

He said there were no reports of injury or death but emergency services were focusing on people isolated by the effects of the storm.

He said lines companies were reconnecting phone and electricity services now that roads were more accessible as flood waters receded.

"The assessment is continuing," he said.

"Our respective agencies of government are doing the assessment and they're reporting back to co-ordinate all the efforts but we had the first meeting of the council this morning and based on that, we have a better idea of co-ordinating for proper programmes. But we're just focussed on rescue and evacuation now."

The Samoa Red Cross said respondents had been sent to the south and Aleipata coasts of Upolu as telephone contact had been lost.

Lydia Sini from Litia Sini Beach Fales in Lalomanu advised via internet messaging that telephone and electricity services had been cut by the storm but there was no other damage that she knew of.

This picture, taken from Mulinuu on Friday night, shows Cyclone Gita gradually moving towards Samoa.

This picture, taken from Mulinuu on Friday night, shows Cyclone Gita gradually moving towards Samoa. Photo: Samoa Meteorological Service

RNZ Pacific's correspondent in Apia, Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia, said the rain had caused rivers to burst their banks, flooding many houses - including his own.

The disaster management office said more than 200 people were in evacuation centres around the country.

Autagavaia said there were strong winds through the night, which had uprooted trees and ripped off roofs. Several main roads were blocked, he said, and power was out where he was in Apia.

He said the country had experienced severe downpours for much of the week, and the cyclone had only added to the misery.

"Yeah it's a big mess. Strong winds, fallen trees, some roofs coming off from some of the houses in the area that I live, and also the huge flood this morning," he said.

"Hopefully by late afternoon we'll be able to enter our houses here and start cleaning up."

Autagavaia said he was yet to hear reports from the south coast and the neighbouring island of Savai'i, which appeared to have borne the brunt.

In American Samoa, where today is Friday, power had been knocked out in large areas and businesses and schools were ordered shut as the cyclone moved towards the territory.

RNZ Pacific's correspondent in Pago Pago, Monica Miller, said there was also flooding there, and debris was strewn around the district.

"Friday has been cancelled in American Samoa," she said.

"Around 5 o'clock that's when we started feeling the effects of Gita. Coming in to work, the road is covered with fallen branches and some of the stores, roofing iron was falling around. And then we had a massive power outage in the most populated area of the district of Tuala-Uta."

The National Weather Service's office in Pago Pago had lost power, Ms Miller said, and data and forecasts were now being sent from the NOAA's office in Hawaii.

American Samoa's governor, Lolo Matalasi Moliga, said the cyclone had caused a lot of damage to homes and utilities.

Governor Lolo has made an emergency declaration, saying it's likely the territory will ask for assistance from the United States.