CYCLONE BRUSHES SAMOA, HEADS FOR TONGA

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MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Jan. 5) - The first Tropical cyclone of the season swept past the rural Samoan island of Savaii with heavy winds overnight.

Weather forecasters had no immediate reports of damage from cyclone Heta.

Coastal villages on the Western Samoan island of Savai'i narrowly escaped the full force of the storm.

Heta passed less than 30 kilometers from the main village on Samoa's largest island, bringing waves of five meters and winds gusting to 100 kilometers an hour.

Villagers enacted emergency plans, moving to higher ground to escape destructive winds which have uprooted trees, power lines and unroofed houses.

The winds damaged the island's cyclone tracking device but Samoa's meteorological bureau says satellite imaging has the cyclone tending south-southwest.

The Bureau says if the storm continues on its present course, it could reach the islands of Fiji, 250 kilometers away, in the next 12 hours.

Heta is the first cyclone to threaten Samoa in nearly a decade.

Cyclones Ofa in 1990 and Val in 1991 were the last major storms to hit the country and nearly bankrupted its economy, causing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage.

Savai'i was badly hit by both cyclones.

According to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Honolulu, Heta last night was packing maximum sustained winds of 125 knots with gusts up to 150 knots. The storm was intensifying, moving southwest from the Samoan islands toward Tonga and the French possessions of Wallis and Futuna.

The Center predicted the storm would weaken sometime tomorrow.

Tonga and Wallis have been warned to expect high winds and heavy rain

Samoa's international airport has been closed and all sea travel between the islands and American Samoa has been cancelled.

Gale warnings remain in place throughout Samoa, although the eye of the cyclone is expected to miss the country and head towards Niue.

January 5, 2003

Radio Australia: www.abc.net.au/ra

 

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