Fiji Govt urges urgent cyclone preparation
MICHAEL FIELD, NICOLE PRYOR, AND MICHELLE ROBINSON
Fiji's government authorities are asking the public to begin preparing for Tropical Cyclone Evan and not leave it to the last minute.
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The category three cyclone will most likely pass over Vanua Levu on Monday after yesterday devastating Samoa, killing three people and leaving several others missing.
In a media briefing this afternoon, permanent secretary for information Sharon Smith-Johns said Evan's affects would begin to be felt in Fiji from Sunday, but urged people not to wait to prepare until it was too late.
She said Evan would most likely be more devastating than Cyclone Kina in 1993.
"This is going to be an extremely bad cyclone to hit us and probably the worse that we've seen since Cyclone Kina," Smith-Johns said.
The Fiji Meteorological Service, in a bulletin issued at 2.53pm today, said Severe Tropical Cyclone Evan was located northeast of Samoa and was slowly moving northwest at 9 kilometres per hour. It is expected to re-curve and move west-southwestward later today and directly affect Fiji from later Sunday.
Evan is currently affecting Samoa and the Samoa Meteorology Division says it is expected to be located 50 miles northwest of Apia later this evening.
Close to the centre Tropical Cyclone Evan has winds speeds of up to 152 kph, according to the Samoan weather office.
Fiji Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has asked people to consider cancelling social events this weekend and to refrain from being inebriated.
"Because this is the festive season I ask you to consider cancelling social events and to act responsibly. All of us need a clear mind for what is bearing down on us. Alcohol and yaqona (kava) drinking will not help the situation. Your family responsibilities must come first," he said in a statement issued today.
"Fellow Fijians, I cannot stress enough how serious this is. Every Fijian will be affected but we must take preventative steps now."
The Minister for Agriculture, Inia Seruiratu has urged farmers to secure their property and machinery, move livestock to higher ground and plan for crop recovery.
SAMOAN RED CROSS PREPARES
Meanwhile, Samoan Red Cross is readying teams of disaster response volunteers who will be assessing the damage as soon as the weather clears following Cyclone Evan.
US Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa David Huebner announced on Friday night that the United States was providing US$50,000 (NZ$60,000) to the Red Cross for immediate cyclone relief efforts.
"Working with the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, today I am authorizing the immediate release of USD $50,000 to support on-going disaster recovery efforts in Samoa.
Earlier on Friday, Samoa's Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi is hoping to get back home tonight after his flight from New Zealand was cancelled yesterday morning.
He said the indentities of those killed in the storm were not yet known, although two were children. Securing water supply and assessing damage were the top priorities for the country.
"We are expecting there will be some disruption to water supply for the first few days."
But he was not worried that the Pacific Island nation would run out, as controls were in place to monitor consumption.
An assessment would be made on whether international assistance was required for the clean-up and supplies, he said.
The next step forward will be determined at a Parliament meeting on Tuesday.
"We are calling on the villages to activate their resources, for the young men to help the Government clear the debris from the main roads so we can gain access to the plantations."
Phone line and electrical mains workers will be "very very busy" repairing infrastructure, Tuila'epa said.
He has been in contact with his deputy over developments on the ground and was aware the National Disaster Council was carrying out an emergency action plan.
Those whose homes were destroyed are encouraged to seek refuge at local schools and hospital halls.
The Red Cross has a central warehouse in Samoa and six depots stocked with tarpaulins, first aid kits, water containers and kitchen sets which volunteers would distribute as soon as they are able to get out.
New Zealand Red Cross has personnel and equipment on standby in Auckland in case assistance is requested.
Its international operations and emergencies manager Andrew McKie said the organisation is ready to respond when needed.
"We are working with the MFAT emergency task force to ensure any response is coordinated. We are also monitoring other Pacific Islands and are in contact with our partner national societies there," McKie said.
"We are asking people not to donate goods. If people want to help they'll be able to donate later today on www.redcross.org.nz."
While the storm intensified earlier in the day over Samoa, it is likely to spare the capital Apia a second battering.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said this afternoon no New Zealanders were among the dead.
New Zealand's High Commissioner in the country, Nick Hurley, said Apia had sustained "massive damage".
He said police had said there were people missing, including several children swept away when Apia's Vaisigano River burst its banks.
"The Vaisigano River has shredded everything in Apia," he said.
"For some reason, the really sustained damage has been in Apia. It will make you weep when you see amazing one hundred year old trees that have been just ripped out of the ground," he said.
The road and dozens of villages out west toward the Faleolo Airport appear to have sustained less damage but there is little word from the Upolu's south coast, a popular tourist spot.
The Samoa Disaster Management Office has said power was out and some main roads were inaccessible due to fallen trees and power.
Water was only available to critical services such as the hospital, it said.
In its latest bulletin the Samoan Meteorological Service said Evan was moving north at 16 kmh, nearly double its speed last night and was 55 kilometres north-northeast of Apia.
"TC (tropical cyclone) Evan is expected to move west-southwest and may relocate at about 39 miles (63 kilometres) north-northwest of Apia at 5pm this evening."
Winds of 113-153 kmh are expected.
Forecasters said the storm could be heading toward Samoa's biggest island of Savai'i and then northern Tonga, the French islands of Wallis and Fatuna and Fiji.
Fiji is making urgent preparations for the cyclone. Nadi Met Office director Alipate Waqaicelua told state radio they were expecting the storm to reach Category 4 by the time it hits Fiji.
Current projections have Cyclone Evan arriving just north of Udu Point at the eastern end of Vanua Levu early Monday and then sweeping down the northern coast of Viti Levu.
The main tourist belt around Nadi and Lautoka was expected to be in the cyclone's path.
Jenny Huch, who is on the island of Savai'i, wrote on Facebook this morning that there were still strong winds and heavy rains.
"[It's] so dark with the whole island being covered in grey clouds. We really have no idea on what's going to happen [because] radio connections are cut and TV is out too," she said.
"Here in Savai'i our houses are still standing but plantations are most likely ruined."
A Christchurch couple in Apia for work spent a sleepless night as winds and rain battered their house.
Fred and Yvonne Filipe said it had been a long night. Their house in Vaivase, about five minutes from Apia town, had made it through the night undamaged, although there were a few leaks.
Being uphill, they had escaped major flooding, but they did not have power or water.
All the trees in the plantation surrounding their house had been uprooted and the strength of the wind was "frightening", Yvonne Filipe said.
Samoan photographer Jordan Kwan said this morning they had also endured a terror filled night.
"We just went for a quick drive downtown - it's absolutely flooded! Along the way we passed many homes with roofs ripped off and fallen trees everywhere. Our car had to navigate around debris that heavily littered the main road.
''We also witnessed many families who took advantage of the lull in the weather to pack and head to neighbouring homes for shelter after taking on heavy damages to their homes last night."
There are believed to be dozens of New Zealand tourists in the area and New Zealand High Commission officials were trying to make contact with them.
Dozens of tourists who were caught at popular resort Aggie Grey's Hotel spent a large part of yesterday on the upper floors as flood waters destroyed much of the grounds around it.
Air New Zealand cancelled its flight in and out of Samoa yesterday, but it was yet to decide about today's flight at 8.05pm.
Evan is the first cyclone of the South Pacific 2012-2013 season.