Thousands homeless after New Caledonia cyclone

Report
from East-West Center
Published on 18 Mar 2003
From Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai'i

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Mar. 17) - Tropical cyclone Erica, which on Friday devastated the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, may have left up to 3,500 homeless, officials said over the weekend.

Erica swept through New Caledonia's main island Western coast on Friday packing winds up to 300 kilometers per hour.

Two people were killed, dozens injured and early reports from damage assessment missions sent at the week end are now estimating that a total of 900 families are now without a roof.

French High Commissioner in New Caledonia, Daniel Constantin, told RFO the priority was now to restore power in the affected areas, especially on the north-western coast of the main island, the Grande Terre.

The costs incurred by local Electricity Company Enercal could runs into the millions, Enercal General Manager Jean Bégaut anticipated.

He said about 60 percent of the electricity supply should be restored in the South early this week, but only 20 percent of the power was available in the North, where the small towns of Bourail, Koné, Pouembout, Koumac and Voh have particularly suffered.

Apart from electricity and telephone disruptions, this includes damage to crops, building, and water supply.

Telecom company OPT engineers were also working around the clock to restore communications between the North and the South of the main island.

In the southern village of Yaté near the main hydroelectric dam, gendarmes have assessed that about half of the population is now without a shelter.

Damage to schools throughout the French territory was also a major concern: "Of the 66 secondary schools, only seventeen are able to function on Monday ... Mainly for safety reasons, water or power supply," Director of Education Michel Barat said, adding he had obtained assurances from the French Ministry of Education in Paris that funds would be made available for repairs as soon as a more accurate assessment was made available.

New Caledonia's only university, the UNC, was also badly damaged.

But all primary schools and kindergartens were functional on Monday.

The French government at the weekend said an immediate 300,000 Euros was made available to the French High Commission in New Caledonia.

Further aid and relief, French Overseas minister Brigitte Girardin said, would follow this.

Girardin is to arrive in New Caledonia on Monday.

On Sunday, a CASA military transport plane based in Tahiti, French Polynesia, another French Pacific territory, took 1.5 tons of emergency supplies to New Caledonia.

It also carried a group of ten military civil engineers who are to help New Caledonia's authorities clean up, secure buildings and remove debris on the roads, the French High Commission in Pape'ete said.

The French office said a 50-strong "intervention group" from the French civil defence is scheduled to fly from Paris to New Caledonia by Wednesday.