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Samoan fisherman called 'I want to live' as boat sunk

Published: 8:39AM Monday December 17, 2012 Source: ONE News

A fisherman says his friend called out to him "please, I want to live" after his boat sunk in Samoa.

Roma Vaeloaloa says he held on to a piece of driftwood for 24 hours and floated several kilometres while being battered by wind and high seas before washing up on Manono Island.

His friends and workmates, who were on board when the vessel sunk, are still missing at sea.

"I heard my two fishing buddies call out 'Roma, please, I want to live'. That's all I heard," he said.

"I couldn't help them, it happened so quickly.

"Right now, I am thankful to the Lord for this miracle, for sparing this life, as I am able to stand on land and see my family."

Maritime New Zealand has confirmed that 10 fishermen are still missing off the coast of Samoa and four boats are unaccounted for following Cyclone Evan's impact.

The confirmed death toll in Samoa from the cyclone is four, but with fishermen still missing it is feared it will rise.

An upturned fishing boat hull is being towed to Apia after being identified by Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion searching around 4,800 sq km of ocean in hopes of finding any of the 10 missing men alive.

The vessel is believed to be one of four fishing boats that have been reported missing, but it is yet to be formally identified. No sign of the crew has been found.

Initially three boats were declared missing, but this number increased to four today, RCCNZ Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Kevin Banaghan said.

"Each boat had three crew aboard, but two men, from different boats, have made it to shore," he said. 

Banaghan said a French Navy Guardian aircraft that was assisting with the search would now return to Tahiti, with the Orion possibly remaining available for further assistance on Tuesday.

"The Orion will carry out tasks for the Samoan Government early tomorrow, but may be available to continue the search for two hours after that," he said. "At that point we will look at all available information and make a decision on the next phase of the operation.

Rising cost of damage

Samoa's Prime Minister expects the cost of Cyclone Evan's damage to be more than $200 million.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi today took aid agencies and his Cabinet on a tour of the area that has been destroyed by the cyclone.

Officials are getting a clearer picture of the extent of the damage today and ONE News correspondent Barbara Dreaver went on the tour with the PM.

"He just wanted his Cabinet to have a good look at how bad the damage is. The Prime Minister told me that he's estimating that the cost of the cyclone is around at least 300 million tala which is around $200 million New Zealand." Dreaver told TV ONE's Midday news.

"However, he expects it to be a lot more than that. So huge devastation here," she said.

The clean-up is underway after the cyclone ripped through houses, knocked down power poles and trees, and caused flooding.

Dreaver told TV ONE's Breakfast she is astonished at how widespread the damage is.

"This is huge for Samoa," Dreaver said, reporting from the village of Mangianga where she said there is "absolute devastation".

The village had what was described as "an inland tsunami" as floodwaters rushed through it.

Whole villages relocated

At least 5000 people are officially homeless at the moment "but I've got to tell you that's very conservative," Dreaver said.

"That's only people who are in emergency shelters. I talked to the Red Cross last night. We are hearing of people who have just gone into their own emergency centres if you like, not official ones.

"They've relocated whole villages up into the hills, so we just don't know how many people are homeless."

Red Cross is trying to find those people and make sure that they get the help they need, she said.

The Government has so far provided $50,000 to assist with the response on the ground in Samoa, as well as an Orion to undertake aerial surveillance.

The Government says it will consider additional assistance if requested, with assessment of the damage on-going.