14 Dec 2012

Deadly cyclone batters Samoa

9:58 pm on 14 December 2012

Samoan authorities are assessing the damage caused by a tropical cyclone which has claimed at least two lives, wrecked buildings and left debris strewn over a wide area.

A state of disaster has been declared after Evan made landfall in the capital Apia, on Upolu island, on Thursday.

Police have confirmed that two people have been killed and seven are missing on Friday night. Authorities are negotiating their way through mud-logged streets to determine how many houses have been ruined and how many lives lost.

Meanwhile, a report from Samoa says the cyclone has claimed the lives of two adults from Magiagi.

Merita Huch, editor of Le Weekend newspaper, said one is a man in his 30s who was swept away while trying to rescue villagers, many of whom lived near the Magiagi River. His body was found by police on Friday morning by the Vasigano bridge.

Another death is of a person assigned to the assistant commissioner's house in Magiagi and had gone to check relatives residing in the village but was swept away by the strong currents.

Ms Huch says there are reports of children missing from families who reside near rivers or the ocean.

Nick Hurley, New Zealand's High Commissioner to Samoa, said it is the worst cyclone to hit in the Pacific nation about 20 years. Mr Hurley said in the eastern parts of Apia the river dragged logs and debris as it gushed through streets, causing damage houses and cars.

Electricity is still out on Friday after the winds and the raging river ripped power poles out of the ground. Mr Hurley said it is hoped power will be restore to Apia's central business district by Saturday to get basic services running.

Mr Hurley said 2000 people are in emergency accommodation after their houses were flooded. There are emergency supplies in six depots across Apia, which would distribute tarpaulins, first aid kits and water containers as soon as volunteers can get around the streets. The hospital is operating as normal.

A local journalist, Jona Tuiletufuga, told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme that much of the damage happened just before nightfall and many were stranded without help.

Warning cyclone could loop back, Fiji preparing

Samoa's weather service said the rain had eased and Evan was about 70km north of Apia on Friday night. However, it is continuing to warn people that Evan could loop back over the next two days.

In American Samoa, there had been no major damage, injuries or incidents caused by heavy rain and wind gusts.

The cyclone is forecast to hit Fiji next and authorities are preparing for the worst.

The Ministry of Information said Evan is predicted to be Category 4 cyclone when it hits the group of islands on Sunday night and Monday morning.

The ministry's Permanent Secretary, Sharon Smith Johns, said it is likely to be the most powerful cyclone to hit the country since Cyclone Kina in 1993.

Ms Smith Johns said there are rations in the evacuation centres and all departments have been mobilised. She urged residents to take the warnings seriously and stock up on supplies.

NZ on standby, US provides funds

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said New Zealand is on standby to support Samoa, but at this stage authorities there are coping.

Mr McCully said on Friday that High Commission staff have been visiting evacuation shelters in Apia. He said the Red Cross had enough emergency supplies for 2000 families.

The American ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa said the US would provide $NZ60,000 to the Samoa Red Cross Society for relief efforts.

David Huebner said he had authorised the immediate release of the funds and is in close contact with the Samoan government.

The New Zealand Red Cross said it has personnel and equipment in Auckland ready to head to Samoa. It is asking people not to donate goods, but to give money through its website

Meanwhile, the Samoan community in New Zealand is preparing to support friends and family affected by Cyclone Evan.

Samoan Advisory Council chair Tino Pereira said churches would work together to provide support and assistance.

Mr Pereira said people are very concerned about what is happening and have been trying to get as much information as possible, but cellphone contact is limited as electricity is cut in many areas.