Three dead as cyclone batters Samoa

The worst of the cyclone that battered Samoa overnight appears to be over and it is not expected to hit the island nation again, New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says.

 

At least three people, two of them children, were reported to have been killed by Cyclone Evan, which also brought widespread flash floods, blocked roads, damaged buildings and forced evacuations.

The cyclone was expected to intensify and hit Apia for a second time, but Mr McCully said this now did not appear likely.

"The good news at the moment is that the best guess is we're not going to see the cyclone return to Samoa. I spoke to the New Zealand High Commissioner Nick Hurley a few minutes ago and that's the reading they have on the ground there.''

He said none of the three dead were thought to be New Zealanders.

"Obviously we send our condolences to those who have been affected not only with the fatalities but with the injuries that have been sustained as well.''

New Zealand High Commission staff were currently visiting some of the evacuation shelters in Apia and everything appeared to be operating as well as could be expected.

He said Samoan authorites appeared to be coping with the situation and had not called on New Zealand for assistance, but help would be available if required.

"We have through the Red Cross funded relief supplies to be at rediness for a situation of this sort ... and there is no pressure on those resources at this point,'' Mr McCully said.

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Last night there were reports of widespread flash floods, blocked roads, damaged buildings and evacuations.

Radio Samoa reported that one of the victims, a man, drowned in the Vaisigano, a river that runs alongside the famous Aggie Grey's hotel in Apia.

The river burst its banks, and local media said Aggie Grey's had been badly damaged.
It is the same river where a New Zealand teenager perished in March.

Read more: Live updates: Cyclone Evan

Taiana Pilitati, 18, from Wellington, drowned while desperately trying to save her 8-year-old sister Vaiola after they were hit by a large wave while swimming. Taiana was a cousin for former All Blacks Tana Umaga and Ne'emia Tialata.

It was not known last night how the other two storm victims died.

Samoa newspaper editor Terry Tavita told Radio New Zealand people were still missing.

"In fact there are a couple missing from my village which is about five minutes from downtown (Apia)."

The amount of warning locals got before the cyclone pounded the region would need to be reviewed, he said.

"Some people were taken by surprise by this cyclone. Yesterday we drove around the villages, the cyclone was picking up and some of the people said they didn't get enough warning."

A spokesman from the Samoa Broadcasting Department told Radio NZ it was very windy and raining "really hard" this morning.

"What we can confirm is that many people residing near rivers have been evacuated to evacuation centres and there is a lot of damage along the rivers and flooding in low-lying areas and trees, powerlines and poles are everywhere. There's a lot of damage here in Apia."

His workplace had sustained considerable damage, including part of the roof having blown off.

"We are now broadcasting from the site of our stand-by generators."

New Zealand High Commissioner to Samoa, Nick Hurley, said several New Zealanders were among visitors staying at Aggie Grey's Resort who had moved to higher parts of the hotel because the river bursting its banks.

He said they were safe and comfortable, but without power.

"We're not sure when the power will be back on, there are a lot of power lines down all around Apia," he told Radio New Zealand.

Mr Hurley said the Samoan government has emergency supplies and residents were advised to stock up prior to the storm.

"The immediate need is probably covered by what individuals have been able to do, but after that we'll be looking for discussion with the government this morning and later on just what the New Zealand Government to do to make the first offer of assistance."

The Australian High Commission was among the other buildings badly damaged. The near-new building is in Beach Rd, and faces out to sea.

Herald journalist Vaimoana Tapaleao said it appeared that most of the storm damage was confined to the capital.

Late last night she phoned Toamua, a village of which she is a chief 15 minutes' drive west of Apia, and everyone there was fine, although it was very windy.

Samoan rugby player Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu this morning tweeted that it was an eerie morning in Samoa.

"Evan expected to return within next few hours with far greater force."

Sefa L tweeted: "So apparently my old bedroom at Mom & Dad's house is now occupied by a family from down the road whos house blew away. #Tears #Samoa #LOVE"

Junior Poluleuligaga, who has played rugby for Samoa as well as The Blues, tweeted that he woke to "even more sad news".

"Cyclone Evan is up there with one of the worst. Our continous prayers are with you Samoa. X"

Samoa's Women in Business organisation tweeted that parts of Samoa were without power.

"So overseas aiga please don't worry too much if your family here aren't answering their landlines."

One resident said the cyclone had caused a large school building to topple over in Apia, and the Faleolo International Airport departure lounge had also fallen over.

Earlier yesterday, flights were disrupted, affecting 136 passengers on an Air New Zealand flight that was to leave Auckland in the morning.

An airline spokeswoman said flights were expected to resume today. An extra charter flight was being prepared to take disrupted passengers. It is scheduled to leave Auckland at 9.30pm.

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said a flight to Samoa was cancelled yesterday and the next scheduled flight was not due to depart Auckland until 8.05pm tonight.

"At this stage it's still going ahead, obviously we'll be monitoring the situation throughout the day."

Winds yesterday reached over 100km/h near the storm's centre.

Samoan Red Cross teams were mobilised to help to evacuate residents in low-lying areas.
Other emergency workers were out in force throughout the day as residents struggled to cope with the winds and rain.

Cyclone Evan was upgraded to category 2 at 2pm yesterday. The cyclone is expected to move across northern parts of Tonga tomorrow and is forecast to intensify to a severe, category-3 strength by the time it reaches Fiji on Sunday.

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