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Tsunami survivors brace for Severe Cyclone Rene

Tsunami survivors in Samoa and Tonga huddled in their makeshift shelters over the weekend as they braced for a second disaster in five months with the approach of Cyclone Rene.

Rene left one dead, uprooted trees and caused landslides and flooding as it swept across American Samoa on Saturday, gathering intensity as it continued across the South Pacific.

The islands are still recovering from the tsunamis which killed at least 118 people last September and thousands are still living in tents and other improvised lodgings after their homes were destroyed.

“After the tsunami, we fear for our lives again,” said Taula Kapeli in the Samoan village of Lalomanu on the main Upolu island.

“Anything to do with a natural disaster, we fear. We can only pray but if a cyclone hits, most of the families will be affected because many of them are still living in tents.”

Kapeli said strong winds were battering his village and people were moving inland.

“The cyclone normally brings strong waves so that’s another fear,” he said.

“The wind was like a police band playing on our roof. It was horrible.”

The Fiji Meteorological Service warned that Rene, a category two storm, was likely to be upgraded to category three on a five-point scale as it tracks south.

The service said it issued a tropical cyclone alert for Niue and the Tonga group because Rene appeared to be getting bigger and stronger.

In American Samoa where more than 300 people packed emergency shelters on the main island of Tutuila, a 50-year-old maintenance worker was killed when he fell from the roof of a three-storey building while trying to secure the building in the storm.

Governor Togiola Tulafono said lessons learned from the tsunamis had helped limit the damage as the cyclone with wind gusts up to 150 kilometres an hour tore through the islands.

“As we recover from the events of last September 29th, it is a good feeling that we have placed high priority to help ourselves by preparing and spreading the emergency awareness message,” he said in a message to the territory’s 65,000 residents.

Across the international dateline in neighbouring Tonga, weather forecasters issued a bulletin on Sunday warning Rene “may bring damaging gale force winds over the whole Tonga group in the next 24 to 48 hours”.

They warned of wind gusts up of more than 170 kph and squally thunderstorms with seas “becoming very rough to high (and) damaging heavy swells developing.”



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