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MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Jan. 6) - At least one person was reported killed following a powerful cyclone that sideswiped Samoa yesterday.

Officials said the victim was washed out to sea as waves whipped up by cyclone Heta pounded Samoa’s main islands of Upolu.

According to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Honolulu, the storm yesterday afternoon was about 135 nautical miles west-southwest of Pago Pago, the capital of neighboring American Samoa, moving southwest at about 10 knots per hour.

Winds were estimated at 140 knots per hour with seas up to 45 feet.

Meteorologists in Samoa yesterday reported gusts of 100 kilometers still pounding the island as it moved away.

Disaster officials in Samoa today were trying to assess the extent of damage.

Coastal villages on the main island of Savai'i narrowly missed the full force of the cyclone, which whipped up five-meter seas.

Villagers moved to higher ground as houses were unroofed, trees uprooted and power lines brought down. The cyclone also closed a number of roads, making it difficult for officials to reach some areas.

Meanwhile, the island nation of Niue was bracing itself for the approaching cyclone. The Fiji Meteorological Center issued a tropical cyclone alert for Niue, predicting that on its current path, it could hit Niue in the next 24-hours.

Fiji's Meteorological Service has issued a warning to mariners in the northern part of Tonga and Niue to expect hurricane force winds within 30 nautical miles of the cyclone center.

The storm was expected to miss Fiji but was generating heavy swells

In Pago Pang, high school football players from Hawaii were reportedly riding out the storm in their hotel rooms. According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the team was in American Samoa for a week’s visit and a New Year’s Day game, which was cancelled.

Coastal residents in American Samoa meanwhile were packing up and moving inland ahead of Cyclone Heta sweeping through the area.

At Poloa, a family of four managed to pack two suitcases of belongings before fleeing as their beach house was washed away.

Three people were washed out to sea at Fagasa, but managed to make it safely back to shore as families in coastal areas were advised to move to higher ground with the situation expected to worsen.

Pago Pago International Airport is closed.

Cyclone Heta is expected to continue southeast towards the islands of northern Tonga and Niue by late Tuesday.


January 6, 2004

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