Apia slammed as cyclone hits Samoa

Last updated 22:24 13/12/2012
Lafaele Mapusua

Flights cancelled as cyclone hits Samoa

Samoa, cyclone Evan
Devastation in Samoa.
cyclone evan
Samoa Meteorological Service
WILD WEATHER: The cyclone heads for Samoa.
apia park
APIA PARK: A photograph showing the extent of the damage.

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Two children are believed to be the first fatalities of a savage cyclone that has hit Samoa.

The small but powerful Cyclone Evan has battered the country, inflicting a severe ocean surge on the capital Apia. The city has been largely evacuated due to massive damage.

The Disaster Management Office (DMO) has not confirmed the deaths, but as is traditional in Samoa, families have posted announcement on state radio, advising of the family tragedy.

The children are believed to have drowned near Apia Park, a low lying area in the eastern side of the capital.

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Earlier this evening DMO reported that a feared ocean surge was hitting the northern coast of Samoa, including Apia.

"The storm surge is hitting us now, it is really high, 12 to 15 feet (3.6 to 4.5 metres)," a DMO official said on a failing phone line.

Phones and electricity are out across much of the country and tourists in the Aleipata area of south eastern Samoa have fled the coast.

There are believed to be dozens of New Zealand tourists in the area.

"They have gone up higher but the wind is very strong and there is going to be damage there."

An early indication of the ferocity of the surge and heavy flooding is a report from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs which has closed the High Commission on Beach Road, Apia, because of severe damage.

The New Zealand High Commission is nearby.  

Aggie Greys Hotel in Samoa, further east on Beach Road and one of the Pacific's best-known hotels, has been heavily damaged by the cyclone.

An eyewitness says the Vaisigano River has swept into the hotel, destroying much of its famed fale restaurant and the premier fale rooms.

"The water is up to the third floor of the hotel and the guests are huddling in the upper rooms," the witness said.

The hotel began its life during World War Two with the late Aggie Grey selling hamburgers to American troops.

New Zealand Government officials are already preparing to assess damage and offer urgent help, an official said.

Although the mobile phone networks remain operational, the lack of power means most cellphones are now drained.

Earlier today DMO issued an urgent appeal for all people in the low lying areas of Apia to "move to higher ground".

Increasing fears of a significant disaster are signs that Evan is beginning to stall over American Samoa and further intensify.

Increasing fears of a significant disaster are signs that Evan is beginning to stall over American Samoa and further intensify.

A Samoa Meteorological Service bulletin at 8pm (NZ and Samoa time) said Cyclone Evan was 11 kilometres east of Aleipata or 50 kilometres southeast of Apia.

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It is moving east at around 8t kilometres an hour with storm winds of 92 to 102 kmh within 48 kilometres of its centre.

"If it continues on its current track, its centre is expected to be located at about 39 miles (63 kilometres) east-southeast of Apia at 12:00 midnight and there is a possibility for TC Evan to re-curve back within another 12-24 hours," the bulletin said.

The projection puts it half way between Samoa and American Samoa.

DMO said the Vaisigano, Lelata, Alamagoto, Moamoa and Tufuiopa rivers are flooding.

The notice was issued at 5pm (NZ time) and effects thousands of people how have been urged to go to evacuation centres.

One Samoan national on Twitter reported that the country's only McDonald's has been heavily damaged. Other pictures near the area suggest water if flowing heavily through the central Apia area.

Earlier in the day New Zealand High Commissioner Nick Hurley was unable to reach his home in Vailima, above the city, but got there early tonight.

He described scenes of major devastation on the Cross Island Road out of Apia.

"There is a lot of vegetation, very big trees down all over the place," he said.

Earlier today Air New Zealand has cancelled its flight in and out of Samoa.

An Air New Zealand official confirmed that 136 passengers had checked in before it was cancelled and they hope to get them to Samoa tomorrow on a replacement charter flight.

Staff and guests at Aleipata's Taufau Beach Resort have been moved out of the beach fales.

The area was badly hit during the tsunami which killed 189 people across the region.

Taufua's manager Sili Apelu said this morning that the area was being buffeted by strong winds and drizzle ahead of Evan's arrival.

The seas were rough but not immediately threatening to the resort, but he said they had decided to move guests who are staying in beach fale to another part of the resort, atop a cliff overlooking the bay.

"We told them at breakfast that it was important we move them up the hill," he said.

He added that Samoa radio was reporting severe weather in Apia.

The US Embassy in Apia has warned its nationals to take care.

"US citizens staying in beach fales are advised to immediately identify more secure lodging or contact the Disaster Management Office for information on nearby shelter," the embassy says.

Evan, the first cyclone of the South Pacific 2012-2013 season, is likely to be the first big test for a massive seawall built around Apia's Harbour following two ruinous cyclones in the 1990s.  

Evan may further intensify over the weekend hitting the vulnerable Tongan islands of Niuafo'ou and Niuatoputapu, both of which suffered severe damage in the 2009 South Pacific tsunami which killed 189 people across the region.

The Fiji Meteorological Service is tentatively projecting that Evan will then hit the Fiji island of Taveuni and on into the main Fijian islands, including the capital Suva.

The UN Disaster Management Office in Samoa has met to discuss the potential impact and necessary preparedness measures.

Samoa has been blessed with largely quiet cyclone seasons since suffering major economic disasters in the early 1990s.

In 1990, Cyclone Ofa killed seven people and a year later Cyclone Val passed over Samoa and then effectively stopped for five days over the islands killing 16 people and causing severe housing and agricultural damage.

- Stuff

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