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Fiji braces as Cyclone Evan picks up momentum

Published: 5:48AM Friday December 14, 2012 Source: ONE News

Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has warned his people to stay at home and keep their loved ones close, as Cyclone Evan bears down on the Pacific nation.

While Samoa begins the clean-up from 48 hours at the mercy of Evan, Fiji now lies squarely in its path and Bainimarama is urging locals to batten down the hatches before its expected arrival on Sunday.

The Fiji News is quoting the PM as telling his constituents to keep their wits about them.

"Because this is the festive season, I ask you to consider cancelling social events and to act responsibly," he says. "All of us need a clear mind for what is bearing down on us.

"You must restrict your movements and refrain from unnecessary travel, which includes travelling to the sea."

"Fellow Fijians, I cannot stress enough how serious this is, as every Fijian will be affected, but we must take preventative steps now."

By the time the cyclone hits, it is expected to have reached Category Four strength and may also pass over Tonga en route.

The Fiji News reports that Fijian police disaster management teams are on standby, with officers ready to assist in rescue efforts, patrol affected areas, provide security and control vehicle movements.

"Police officers have also been directed to go out to their communities and carry out awareness on the need to prepare and take precautions now," police spokesperson Ana Naisoro.

Tough time ahead

The tempest that lashed Samoa for the past two days has left its capital city of Apia in ruins and killed at least three people.

Flights into the Pacific island nation will re-open tonight, providing a lifeline from the outside world and signalling the start of a clean-up operation that could take months.

After passing over Samoa last night, Cyclone Evan double-backed, sparing the main settlements a second dose of destruction, but provoking hurricane warnings for the big island of Savaii.

Evan has been disastrous for Samoa, leaving locals feeling helpless. The wave of water exploded over river banks, sweeping over roads, and carrying away homes and lives with it.

"We can only pray for the Lord's intervention," said Samoan prime minister Tuilera Sailele Malielegaoi.

While the storm has pummeled his country, its frustrated leader has been stranded in Auckland.

"The priority really is to repair the damage to infrastructure, electricity lines and the buildings," he said.

The damage is extensive. Many homes have been destroyed.

Fresh water and food is a big concern - most shops are closed and when one opened its doors, it was faced with queues of desperate shoppers.

Many residents have a tough time ahead.

"The power is off to most people," said New Zealand High Commissioner for Samoa Nick Hurley. "For the average Samoan, it might be weeks or a couple of months before it is fully restored."

It is too soon to put a cost on the damage to homes and infrastructure. Parliament will meet next week to look at what's needed, including help from donor countries.

"We are only in the beginning of the cyclone season, so we may have a few more," says Malielegaoi.

The people of Samoa are praying that is not the case.

Travel plans up in the air

The cyclone has also wreaked havoc on the travel plans of hundreds here in New Zealand, including Samoans trying to get home.

Flights between New Zealand and Apia have been cancelled since yesterday morning, but Air New Zealand is re-opening its service to Apia tonight and offering extra flights for those hoping to help the clean-up operation.

But for many, their hopes of getting to Samoa for Christmas look slim.

"I was really looking forward to seeing my partner and the little one," says Samoan Tayne Laumua. "Looking at all the photos on Facebook and all the updates, I feel really helpless just sitting here."

Laumua, booked on Virgin Airlines, could be waiting more than a week.

"They said 'we've shifted you - the next available flight is Christmas Day'," he says.

About 140 New Zealand are currently in Samoa, but none have requested assistance from our government.

Many have moved to higher ground, particularly those staying in Apia.

"One of the lessons from the tsunami was to build escape routes, as well as escape shelters on higher ground," says Fasitau Ula of the Samoa Tourism Authority. "So the beach fale operators have now used these for tourist shelters."

Travel agents are working madly to re-jig holidaymakers' itineraries, but with Evan now headed for other Pacific Islands, the question is where to send them?

"I understand that Fiji's in the firing line now, as well, and with a lot of flights every day going there, that's a massive concern," says Sue Matson of Flight Centre.

Plans of hundreds of people are now up in the air, while others feel totally grounded.