Cyclone in Samoa kills two, knocks out power station

AFP, APIA

Sat, Dec 15, 2012 - Page 6

The Pacific nation of Samoa faces up to two weeks without electricity, officials said yesterday, after a cyclone that killed two people and sent hundreds fleeing to safety destroyed its main power station.

Cyclone Evan hit on Thursday afternoon, uprooting trees, tearing roofs off houses and flooding the capital Apia, prompting the Samoan government to declare a disaster and order a massive clean-up operation.

However, in a welcome reprieve for the battered nation, forecasters said fears had abated that the storm, described by witnesses as the worst in decades, would return and hit the city for a second time.

“Power is off for the whole country ... Tanugamanono power plant is completely destroyed and we might not have power for at least two weeks,” the Disaster Management Office (DMO) said in a statement.

It said hospitals and other essential services were using standby generators, with water supplies also out and most roads cut off by fallen trees and power poles as hundreds of people languished in evacuation centers.

A DMO spokeswoman said there had been at least two confirmed deaths, while media reported a number of children were missing after being swept away when Apia’s Vaisigano river burst its banks.

Tropical storms are relatively common in Samoa, but residents said they had little warning about the ferocity of Cyclone Evan.

“This is the biggest one I’ve been through and I’ve been through difficult situations in the Pacific [before],” New Zealand’s high commissioner in Apia, Nick Hurley, told Radio New Zealand.

“The unpredictable nature of this one has made it quite different. The forecast winds did not give any indication of how strong the impact was going to be,” he said.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the air force was on standby to fly aid to Samoa if needed, but initial indications were that emergency supplies stockpiled in the remote nation would suffice.

Apia was braced for a second hit from the cyclone earlier yesterday, but McCully said forecasters believed that was unlikely.

“The good news at the moment is that the best guess is we’re not going to see the cyclone return to Samoa,” he told reporters.

A number of holiday resorts were reportedly flooded and the US embassy in Samoa has set up a hotline for citizens caught in the storm, advising them to move away from coastal areas.

In travel advice, the Australian government said the cyclone had caused “damage to local services and infrastructure, including communications and electricity services and Faleolo International Airport.”

“The Australian High Commission in Apia has closed until further notice due to storm damage,” the Australian government said.

The Fiji Meteorological Service has warned the cyclone could threaten northern parts of Tonga today and reach Fiji by tomorrow.