Cyclone Heta hits tiny Pacific island of Niue

from Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published on 06 Jan 2004
Wellington (dpa) - Cyclone Heta hammered the tiny Pacific island of Niue Tuesday after battering Samoa and neighbouring American Samoa, but with communications down weathermen could only speculate on the havoc it was causing.

Satellite images showed that Niue was directly in the path of the cyclone "right in the zone of torrential rain and the most violent winds that the cyclone can offer", Steve Ready, of the New Zealand MetService, told Radio New Zealand on Tuesday.

Reports said Niue had been experiencing gale force winds all day and the centre of the cyclone could bring sustained winds of over 200 kilometres an hour with gusts of up to 280 kilometres an hour.

Telephone lines to the 260 square kilometre coral atoll were cut earlier in the day as it had lowered its radio masts ahead of the cyclone.

Ready told the New Zealand Press Association, "It's a full-blown hurricane - it's up there with the best of them."

He said damage was likely to be considerable. Alipate Waqaicelua, an officer at the Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RSMC) in Nadi, Fiji, told Radio New Zealand that the cyclone should leave Niue in the clear by early Wednesday morning.

But reports said that depending on the extent of the damage, it could be days before communications with Niue - one of the poorest Pacific island states - are restored and details are known.

Niue's 1,300 residents were reported to have boarded up their houses in preparation to ride out the cyclone, while 12 of 20 New Zealand tourists on the atoll took shelter at their country's diplomatic mission.

A spokesman for New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said they had been staying at a resort on an exposed cliff top and it was decided they would be safer to stay in the capital Alofi.

Meteorologist Bob McDavitt told Television New Zealand that after hitting Samoa and American Samoa, Heta had been upgraded to a Category Five cyclone.

He said hurricane force winds and rain were not the only problems the tiny island would face.

"The whole of the ocean lifts up with the central low pressures as the cyclone goes by," he said. "A huge dome of lifted seawater moves onto the island."

Earlier, New Zealand diplomat Tony Fautua said the government and people on Niue were prepared as they awaited Heta's arrival and water and power supplies had been shut off.

"They are going about it in a calm, systematic, way," he told the New Zealand Press Association.

"They have been doing radio and TV announcements, making sure people are at the proper level of readiness."

He said many of Niue's concrete houses were built to withstand strong winds.

Niue is self-governing, but its people are citizens of New Zealand, its former colonial ruler.

It depends on substantial amounts of aid from New Zealand, which under a formal agreement has responsibility to provide economic and administrative assistance.

Heta caused flooding, uprooted trees, toppled power lines and damaged houses and crops in Samoa, Radio New Zealand reported, but there were no deaths.

A state of emergency was declared in neighbouring American Samoa and all sea and air transport to and around both countries was halted.

No other countries are in Heta's path after it passes over Niue and forecasters said it would peter out over the South Pacific Ocean. dpa db pw

AP-NY-01-06-04 0506EST

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