Fears of 'super-cyclone' hitting island states

Samoa appeared to escape the worst of Cyclone Olaf on Wednesday but a top official said it is expected to intensify and approach “super-cyclone” status as it bears down on neighbouring American Samoa and the Cook Islands.

Olaf lashed Savai’i, the main island of Samoa, with winds of more than 200kph and caused extensive tidal damage but veered away from the capital, Apia, when it was about 100km offshore.

“It’s off the capital now, causing quite a lot of tidal damage, bringing down power lines and stuff,” said Kevin Vang of the Australian-Pacific Centre for Emergency and Disaster Information.

“But it’s not come onshore and caused the disastrous damage that would happen if the eye of the cyclone had passed directly over.”

Vang said the presence of a second cyclone, Nancy, in the region means conventional cyclone modelling is not working and experts simply do not know what path Olaf will take.

He said the cyclone, one of the most powerful recorded to date in the region, is still a threat to American Samoa and the Cook Islands.

“The movement is sort of hesitant between the two cyclones. It’s a very complex situation,” he told Sky News.

“If this cyclone continues to parallel along the shore, then it’s very bad news for the Cooks. They’ve already been hit by two cyclones in two weeks and a third would be a very difficult thing for them to cope with.”

American Samoa Governor Togiola Tulafono was taking no chances on the unpredictable storm, pre-emptively appealing for United States President George Bush to declare the territory a disaster area.

He said Olaf is expected to intensify from a category-four to a top-of-the-scale category-five “super-cyclone” before it hits the territory.

“We are anticipating extensive infrastructure damage and limited communications capability in the aftermath of this category-five storm,” Tulafono said in a statement to Bush.
“Due to the magnitude of potential damages, I am submitting this request before the greatest impacts occur.”

The New Zealand MetService said Cyclone Nancy is weakening, easing fears it could combine with Olaf to create a single destructive vortex.

“Nancy is fading away rapidly, so this time tomorrow there will basically be just one cyclone,” forecaster Oliver Druce said. “They’re not going to bang into each other.”

Samoa and American Samoa remain under states of emergency, with schools, businesses and airports closed and boarded up and low-lying areas evacuated, said residents in the American Samoa capital, Pago Pago.

On the Cook Islands, the category-two Nancy uprooted trees, damaged roofs and flooded coastal areas of the small atoll of Aitutake overnight, the Aitutake Cyclone Centre reported.

No injuries were reported among Aitutake’s 2 000 residents, which sustained damage from the category-four Cyclone Meena just 10 days ago. The main island of Rarotonga sustained some damage to the east coast.

The Australian government aid agency AusAID said it is coordinating with Australian, New Zealand and French emergency response teams to ensure a swift reaction to any requests for assistance.—AFP

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