Dunedin man on cyclone relief duty

New Zealand Red Cross disaster response co-ordinator Douglas Clark, of Dunedin, stands amid some of the destruction left by Cyclone Evan in Samoa's capital Apia. Photo supplied.
New Zealand Red Cross disaster response co-ordinator Douglas Clark, of Dunedin, stands amid some of the destruction left by Cyclone Evan in Samoa's capital Apia. Photo supplied.
While most New Zealanders were Christmas shopping or unwrapping presents, Dunedin man Douglas Clark was lending a helping hand in Samoa in the wake Cyclone Evan.

Cyclone Evan hit Samoa on December 13, leaving a wake of destruction and killing at least five people, with others still missing and the death toll likely to climb. As part of his role as a New Zealand Red Cross disaster response co-ordinator, Mr Clark led a team of five New Zealanders who helped at evacuation centres, where thousands of people from wrecked and damaged homes have sheltered since the cyclone hit. He left on December 18 and arrived back in Dunedin on Thursday.

Mr Clark, who has responded to many other disasters around the world, said the devastation in Apia - which suffered the most damage in Samoa - was shocking.

Most of the damage in Apia was caused when its largest river turned into a ''wall of water'', destroying houses in the narrowest part of the river valley.

He said there would have been many more deaths had the flash flood occurred at night when there would have been no warning.

The New Zealand Red Cross response involved helping make sure disease did not break out in evacuation centres, which in the initial aftermath were home to anywhere from 5000 to 8000 survivors.

''When you get a lot of people bundled together in [an] environment like that, it's just a recipe for diseases,'' he said.

His team worked alongside Samoa Red Cross, handing out hygiene kits and ensuring people had access to fresh water.

There were still between 2000 and 3000 people at the centres, which would be needed for a while, he said. The Samoan Government said 400 homes were destroyed by the cyclone.

Mr Clark said if people wanted to donate to the response effort it was best to give money rather than items such as clothes and blankets, which took a long time to process and ''clogged up'' the system.

-vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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