Red Cross societies organize rapid response as Cyclone Evan hammers Samoa and Fiji

Published: 19 December 2012 21:19 CET

By Patrick Fuller

Over the past five days Samoa and Fiji have felt the full force of Cyclone Evan as it tracked across the Pacific. Evan made landfall in Samoa on 13 December as a category 3 tropical storm.  Apia, the capital of Samoa, experienced extensive flooding and there was widespread damage to buildings and critical infrastructure in surrounding areas. Seven schools were completely destroyed and nine suffered major damage.

Falling trees brought power lines down and obstructed roads. Samoa's main island still has no running water or electricity and utility workers are continuing their efforts to restore services. However, the central business district in Apia is now returning to normal with shops and businesses re-opening.

The Government of Samoa has declared a State of Emergency for the next 30 days. There has been extensive damage to crops such as breadfruit, taro and banana trees. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele expressed concern that the levels of destruction could cause food shortages next year.

Current assessments show that close to 1,500 homes have been damaged or destroyed, and government reports suggest the number of people in evacuation centres has swelled to over 7,000. The Samoa Red Cross Society is managing ten evacuation centres where volunteers are distributing relief items and a welfare management system has been established. Needs that are being addressed include clothing, food, clean water and installation of sanitation facilities. Water and sanitation teams from the organization have already established water tanks in five evacuation centres and plan on installing three more in the coming days.

A few days later, Cyclone Evan hit Fiji on December 17, with winds of more than 200km. The cyclone passed over the Yasawa and Mamanuca Groups with the eye near the western coastline of Viti Levu (the main island) near Lautoka and Nadi – two of the most populated cities in Fiji.  

The cyclone knocked out power in many areas, roads were blocked by debris and uprooted trees and flooded rivers inundated some areas.

In advance of the storm the government had ordered evacuations of low lying areas, and there were more than 8,400 people in 147 evacuation centres in the Northern, Eastern and Central Divisions.  

As soon as the cyclone passed, The Fiji Red Cross Society mobilised its emergency response teams to carry out initial post disaster assessments and distributions of relief supplies such tarpaulins, cooking sets, clothing, hygiene kits and other non-food items.

Disaster management staff from the regional office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Suva, have accompanied Fiji Red Cross teams on their field assessment and are engaging with other members of the logistics coordination cluster established by the National Disaster Management Office. The IFRC is also playing the role of convenor of the national cluster that is looking at possible shelter needs across the affected divisions.