Andrew Macalister, New Zealand
Red Cross staff and volunteers have been active throughout the Pacific this week, responding to the damage wrought by Cyclone Heta.
Cyclone Heta carved a trail of destruction through the South Pacific, affecting American Samoa, Samoa, northern parts of Tonga, Niue and the Cook Islands, lashing the region with hurricane-force winds, huge seas and flooding. In its wake it has left ruined homes and roads, the loss of the root and tree crops that subsistence farmers rely on and damaged transport and communication facilities.
Worst affected was the tiny island state of Niue, with a population of about 1700, which lay in the path of Heta at her peak. Initial reports suggest many buildings were damaged or destroyed, including the island’s only public hospital, most agricultural crops lost, and one woman killed by a collapsing building.
“Heta was the first cyclone of the Pacific season, but it also turned out to be a very severe one,” says Leon Prop, head of the International Federation’s Pacific regional delegation. “Immediate needs are to provide basic shelter items, such as blankets and tarpaulins, to those families whose homes have been destroyed or damaged and to ensure water and sanitation services are restored as quickly as possible. In the longer term, it may be necessary to provide some food supplies, and to restore damaged infrastructure.”
The New Zealand Red Cross is providing 100 family kits for those families who have lost everything.
Meanwhile, in Samoa, the Red Cross has been distributing relief items, such as blankets, tarpaulins, water containers and lanterns since January 5, when the cyclone passed to the south-east of the country. A team of 60 volunteers has also used stocks from its pre-positioned relief supplies to help vulnerable groups in the community, including the elderly, handicapped and hospitals.
Yesterday, a Tonga Red Cross representative also travelled to the northern Tongan islands of Tafahi and Niuatoputapu, which suffered moderate damage, including the loss of several houses and damage to food crops, and distributed some non-food relief items.
The International Federation has already released 3000 Swiss francs to the Samoan Red Cross for its relief work and has offered to assist Pacific Red Cross Societies in the replenishment of relief supplies where necessary.
“The Red Cross Movement has been at the forefront of relief efforts to date, and remains prepared to assist with further support in all three nations, once assessments have been completed and requests for assistance made,” adds Leon Prop.