Doctor witness to storm's damage

02:14, Dec 18 2012
tdn doc stand
James Alesana-Slater

A Taranaki doctor who flew home to Samoa for his mother's birthday has found himself in the middle of a disaster zone. John Anthony spoke to James Alesana-Slater about the devastation caused by Cyclone Evan

There is little sign of support from the Samoan Government in the wake of Cyclone Evan, says a Taranaki doctor caught up in the aftermath.

Taranaki Base Hospital house surgeon Dr James Alesana-Slater flew back to his Apia home on Friday for his mother's 59th birthday.

But Dr Alesana-Slater, 24, found himself walking into a disaster zone rather than a celebration.

Apia, Samoa's capital with a population of nearly 40,000, suffered widespread destruction when Cyclone Evan struck last Thursday with winds gusts as high as 175kmh.

Four people are confirmed dead and at least a dozen are missing.


Dr Alesana-Slater was born in Auckland but lived in Samoa from the age of eight to 18, he said.

His mother, the daughter of former Samoan prime minister Tofilau Eti Alesana, owned Aniva's Place, a bed and breakfast in Apia.

Dr Alesana-Slater, who took a break from cleaning up to speak to the Taranaki Daily News, said the cyclone destruction in Apia was extensive. Dr Alesana-Slater said anywhere between 70 and 200 families had lost their houses after the island's main river, Vaisigano, burst its bank.

"There's a lot of families that lived around the banks and their houses literally got swept away," Dr Alesana-Slater.

"It was like a tsunami.

"You've got cars in the trees and houses under mud, cars under mud.

"There's 13 kids missing.

"I'm not sure if they've been found."

Dr Alesana-Slater's house was about 120 metres from the river but, because it sat on elevated ground, it narrowly escaped being swept away, he said.

On Sunday the electricity came back on, but there was still no running water.

"Really, it's just the water which everyone wants to get started."

Fresh drinking water was being supplied by a private water company, he said.

At the moment there was little sign of government help.

"I drove out and around yesterday and it's really just the people cleaning up doing everything."

Other than a Red Cross tent set up near his home, there were little other assistance he could see.

Aniva's Place suffered only minor wind damage but neighbouring properties were not so lucky with entire roofs being ripped off. Hundreds of families were seeking shelter in refuge centres, he said.

He had offered medical assistance but at this stage was not required and he remained on standby, he said.

With no running water at home, Dr Alesana-Slater and his family were having to shower using pool water and rinse with rain water. "It's been a while since I showered like that."

This was the biggest cyclone his mother had ever experienced, he said. "Hopefully this is the end of it because this is just the start of the cyclone season," he said.

Dr Alesana-Slater said only a small fraction of Apia residents would be covered by insurance.

Taranaki Daily News