Cyclone Evan Leaves Samoa Damaged Beyond Expectations
By Dominique Schwartz
MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Dec. 17, 2012) – Samoa's National Emergency Operations Centre says the damaging impact of Cyclone Evan is as severe as the tsunami that devastated the country in 2009.
The death toll stands officially at four but eight fishermen are still missing at sea; the search for them resumed on Monday.
Authorities say 4,500 people are in emergency evacuation centers after their homes were flooded or destroyed.
Australia and New Zealand have pledged an initial $50,000 to help Samoa repair damage to the electricity network and the main water treatment plant.
Samoa's national response coordinator, Filomena Nelson, says they are working on getting power reconnected as soon as possible.
"We should have electricity for the whole country some time next week," she said.
"Right now electricity is prioritized for hospitals and the central business district, some other parts of the country and the airport.
"Most likely it will take about a week, the whole of this week to finish off the clean-up
Disaster assessment teams are now moving out across the island of Upolu, which has bore the brunt of Cyclone Evan.
Ms. Nelson says a picture is emerging of widespread and severe damage.
Food staples such as bananas and breadfruit have been particularly badly hit.
Broken trees and battered plantations stretch for kilometers in the south-west of the island.
Ms. Nelson says the number of people in emergency shelters has risen to 4,500.
A state of emergency has been declared after the cyclone struck the South Pacific nation on Thursday.
The Australian Government has offered immediate humanitarian assistance to Pacific island communities affected by Cyclone Evan.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr says AusAID personnel are already on the ground in Samoa to help with emergency relief coordination, and members of the Australian Civilian Corps are on standby.
"We're the biggest aid donors to the region and we have a special responsibility for the Pacific, and our hearts go out to the people of Samoa, caught in the wake of what has been a devastating cyclone," he said.
"We're working with the government very closely on the delivery of this immediate aid and looking at what we can do subsequently when it comes to reconstruction."
Senator Carr says the government has also contacted Fiji to offer early assistance.
New Zealand says it will also help with response efforts in Samoa in the wake of Cyclone Evan.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says at the request of the Samoan Government, New Zealand will provide a P3 Orion airplane to survey the area and provide environmental health assessments.
"Our heartfelt condolences go out to the people of Samoa as they begin to come to terms with the loss of life and damage caused," Mr. McCully said in a statement.
"We have also made available NZ$50,000 to assist with the on-the-ground response.
"Our heartfelt condolences go out to the people of Samoa as they begin to come to terms with the loss of life and damage caused."
Mr. McCully says further assistance will be considered.
The Samoan Government has declared a state of disaster after Cyclone Evan ravaged the country, destroying buildings and causing flash floods.
Hundreds of people were evacuated as high winds damaged homes and Apia's Vaisigano River broke its banks.
Relief centers have been set up on Saturday to provide tarpaulins, first aid and water containers to cyclone-affected residents.
Locals say it is the worst storm to hit the region in recent years.
Journalist Cherelle Jackson in Apia says there could be food shortages as a result of the cyclone.
"Most of the mountains have been stripped bare of leafs and trees and so all the plantations have been affected," she told Radio Australia's Asia Pacific.
"You've got taro, grapefruit and banana all affected. Once we get over this, the cyclone itself, we're going to have major food issues afterwards."
Greg Grimsich, from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says international aid groups are ready to help if required.
Mr. Grimsich told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat that the damage caused by Cyclone Evan is much worse than initially expected.
"There's a number of power lines down, roads damaged, we're having a lot of difficulty communicating by mobile phones because the lines are actually quite jammed at the moment," he said.
"We had a large number of people displaced from their homes near the coast and near the river."
Many places in Samoa have only just rebuilt after being devastated by a tsunami in 2009.
"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 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.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs 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," DFAT said.
It advises travelers to exercise normal safety precautions in Samoa.
The U.S. Territory of American Samoa was also preparing to be hit by Cyclone Evan, but it was only affected by high winds with no reports of damage.
Tropical Cyclone Evan will bring heavy rain over Fiji on Sunday night, with gale force winds and damaging waves predicted.
Fijians have been told to stock up on bottled water, food and fuel, and boil any tap water in the 24 hours before and after the cyclone.
Copyright © 2012 Radio Australia. All Rights Reserved
Go back to Pacific Islands Report