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Pacific leaders meet in Auckland to plan cyclone response

Published: 12:44PM Friday December 21, 2012 Source: ONE News

Pacific leaders have been meeting in Auckland to establish a support strategy for Fiji and Samoa in the wake of the devastating Cyclone Evan.

Around 11,500 Fijians and between 5-6,000 Samoans remain in evacuation shelters following the cyclone earlier this week and are expected to stay there for the foreseeable future.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown chaired the meeting of around 80 Pacific leaders who discussed the best way to respond to the disaster.

He said money and skilled volunteers to help the affected countries rebuild homes and infrastructure were most needed.

"The advice to the forum was clear. Cash is king and that is the single best way Aucklanders can contribute to the immediate relief effort," Brown said.

"Skilled people are needed to help with the relief and rebuild effort and volunteers are encouraged to come forward. MFAT (The Ministry of Foreign Affairs) will match offers with skills identified and requested by the Samoan government and aid agencies."

People interested in volunteering their skills can email MFAT on . MFAT will pass these offers on to Samoa to see if they can be linked to specific requests.

MFAT is administering the Government's pledged $5 million contribution to the islands' recovery.

"Co-ordination is absolutely essential and we're trying to ensure there is a real Team New Zealand response," said Jackie Frizelle, High Commissioner-designate to Samoa.

The meeting today set up a steering group that will draw on the response to the tsunami in Samoa three years ago that took more than 120 lives.

The Government aid is being augmented by donations from the public, including a shipment due to leave Auckland bound for Nadi on December 26.

Word of an appeal to Auckland's yachting community soon turned into a wave of support, says ONE News' Nicole Bremner.

One of the aid co-ordinators, Jeanette Tobin from Superyacht Support, said the generosity had been "unbelievable".

"When we hear of anything like this happening everybody gets together and makes an effort because we're all part and parcel of the same area," she said.

Five people have been confirmed dead after the cyclone ripped through Samoa, with another 12 missing. Health officials there have also raised concerns about the possibility of a typhoid epidemic.

In Fiji, thousands of people were evacuated to emergency shelters as winds topped 230km/h and floods damaged homes and resorts.

The category 4 cyclone uprooted palm trees, tore roofs off buildings, blew down power lines and disrupted water supplies.