16 Dec 2012

Thousands in shelters in Samoa

5:21 am on 16 December 2012

More than 3000 people are staying in temporary accomodation in Samoa after the country's battering by Tropical Cyclone Evan.

Most of them are sheltering in major public buildings, such as schools, gymnasiums and hospital halls.

The prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, says many houses have been completely demolished.

On Saturday his government extended its disaster declaration another 48 hours while teams assess the damage.

Four people are known to have died and seven are missing, including children, after the cyclone made landfall on the island of Upolu on Thursday.

Le Weekender newspaper editor Merita Huch said a Peace Corp teacher in Falealii is missing and a couple in Vaitele are unaccounted for.

Police are trying to locate the crew of a fishing boat who have not been heard from since Tuesday.

AAP reports the 130 New Zealanders registered in Samoa are safe and well.

New Zealand's foreign affairs minister Murray McCully says New Zealand is sending a P3 Orion to help assess the damage and the Government is contributing an initial $NZ50,000 to the first on-the-ground response to the disaster.

The cyclone has destroyed buildings, critical infrastructure and power lines, and there is flooding, fallen trees and power cuts.

Water and power are still out in most parts of the country and Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi says the country's power corporation is working 24 hours a day to restore electricity but it still may take up to a month.

Assessment teams

The Disaster Management Office in Samoa says five damage assessment teams were on Saturday examining the area in the capital of Apia that was worst hit by flash flooding. It said the flooding has affected about 10 villages, especially those along the riverbanks.

It says another team has been sent through the rural areas of Upolo to provide an overview of the cyclone's impact on rural communities and agriculture.

The office says while damage to infrastructure and housing is thought to be extensive the assessment teams are struggling to report their findings as the cell phone network has been damaged.

The Disaster Management Office says reports are indicating damage to buildings on the Island of Savai'i has been minimal but the island's crops such as its banana plantations are thought to have suffered.

The weather service in Samoa says during Saturday Cyclone Evan moved away from the capital and strong winds were buffeting smaller islands off the northern coast of Savai'i.

Could be the most powerful cyclone to hit Fiji in 20 years

Fiji's meteorological service says Evan is intensfying as it moves towards the country. On Saturday afternoon it had strengthened to a category four system with winds gusting up to 230km an hour.

It is expected to reach Fiji by Sunday evening, with the Ministry of Information saying Evan could be the most powerful cyclone to hit the country since 1993.

Red Cross says its staff in Fiji are fully prepared. One advisor is already in Samoa and the organisation is ready to send more staff and whatever is needed from its warehouse in Auckland.