13 Feb 2010

Cyclone Rene tracks through South Pacific

10:11 pm on 13 February 2010

Samoa is bracing for Cyclone Rene after it swept across neighbouring American Samoa without significant impact.

Earlier on Saturday the cyclone hit American Samoa's Manu'a island group and Tutuila island, bringing heavy rain and winds gusting to 144km per hour, but no major damage was reported.

However a maintenance worker was killed in the town of Ottoville when he fell from the roof of a three-storey building he was trying to secure before the cyclone arrived.

The storm forced the closure of Pago Pago International Airport as well as government offices and schools, and there were reports of roofs blown away and trees uprooted.

Radio New Zealand International correspondent Fili Sagapolutele says the islands have so far been able to bear the brunt of the storm.

She says emergency preparations on the Manu'a Islands began days ago, with windows boarded up and people storing essential supplies.

Samoa braces for Cyclone Rene

In Samoa, Radio New Zealand International correspondent Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia says people there are only now putting their lives back together following last year's deadly tsunami.

Category likely to be upgraded

Fiji Meteorological Service has warned that Rene could be upgraded to category 3 as it tracks south.

The service says it has issued a tropical cyclone alert for Niue and the Tonga group.

Forecaster Daini Donu says Samoa and Tokelau are already feeling some of the effects.

Red Cross New Zealand's international operations manager, Andrew McKie, says their staff in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji have been warned to prepare.

Meanwhile, the US Geological Survey says a strong 6.3 magnitude earthquake has hit off Tonga.

There was no tsunami alert and no immediate reports of damage.

Aitutaki picking up the pieces

Earlier this week, up to 90% of the houses on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands were damaged by Cyclone Pat. Nine people were hurt, none seriously.

The cyclone wrecked parts of the island's infrastructure, uprooting trees and ruining crops. Aitutaki mayor Tai Herman says the mango crop was devastated and root vegetables will need to be harvested early.

Sergeant Pa Va'inerere says that a state of disaster remains in force for Aitutaki as the clean-up continues.