HETA HITS - Meteorology Office warns:
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• It’s likely to get worse. • Don’t panic. Get Ready.
First Published: 4 January 2004
Before the weather gets any better, it will probably get a lot worse. This was the message from the Meteorology office at Mulinu’u yesterday afternoon as Cyclone Heta churned closer to Samoa with winds gusting to more than 100mph.
Airports and ports were closed as the weather worsened and the impact of Heta began to hit. Hundreds of travellers were stranded in both Samoa and American Samoa. Assistant Chief Executive of meteorology Service Ausetalia Titimaea urged the public not to panic.
Instead they should make sensible preparations in case Heta changes track and hits Samoa directly. Heta is expected to come within 60-80 miles of the Savai’i coast later today or early tomorrow morning if it continues on its current path.
“But there is a 55-45 per cent possibility that it could change course and pass when closer to Samoa,” the Meteorology Office said.
Titimaea urged the public to tune in to radio stations today for updates on the weather and advice that will be provided by the Meteorology Office. “We advise the public to tie down any movable variables around homes,” he said. “Lock down whatever can be sent flailing in strong winds.”
He also advised those who are living in low-lying coastal areas to move to higher ground as there will be heavy swells and sea flooding. Those also living near waterways are also advised to move away as there is the possibility of Heavy River flooding.
“There will be a lot of moisture,” he said.
The public is also advised to stock up on clean water and to make sure flashlights are in order as there may be disruptions to water and power supply.
At 4pm yesterday, Cyclone Heta was located 180 miles north-west of Savai’i. Earlier it was moving at eight miles per hour, and its strength near the centre was estimated at 86 mph with gusts up to 104 mph. “But that could go up another 10 to 15 mph tomorrow morning as the cyclone is picking up velocity,” the meteorology Office said.
It said that the movement south has been slowed down by about 5-15 mph by high pressure developing in the south. “This in turn has largely influenced Heta’s movement pattern,” it said.
According to a resident of Vaisala on the western tip of Savai’i yesterday afternoon the winds were not yet strong. “The winds have been moderate there have been strong ocean swells this morning but nothing unusual,” said Maeva Vaai, of Vaisala Hotel.
“It also hasn’t been all rain; three have been some bouts of sun this afternoon.”
On the northern coast of the Big Island though, the winds were picking up by late yesterday afternoon. “It has not been raining so much but the winds are quite strong, ocean swells are particularly very high at the moment,” said Elizabeth Betham, of Stevensons at Manase. “But it’s nothing new to us, we are prepared and our guests have been prepared for the worst.
Airports were closed at 2pm yesterday. Airports Authority General Manager Fepulea’i Rimoni Aiafi said that it was better to be safe than to take any dangerous risks. Polynesian and Air New Zealand’s passengers have been advised to listen in for any further notice after their flights were cancelled. Air travel between the two Samoa’s has also been halted. Hundreds of Pago Pago fish cannery workers are home in Samoa for the Christmas –New Year break and this may pose problem for Star Kist and Van camp canneries that are scheduled to start operations again tomorrow. The Samoa Ports Authority yesterday also issued notice that all ports have been closed including the ferry service between Samoa’s.
“It will only be opened when weather permits,” said an official there yesterday. According to reports from Hawai’i, Hawaiian Air and Aloha Airlines flights that were scheduled to American Samoa have also been cancelled.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forests, Fisheries and Meteorology has also issued a warning to fishing boats and all types of ocean crafts.
Other events that have been postponed include the horse races that were supposed to be held on Friday at the Tuana’imato track and the Head of State’s birthday golf tournament at the Fagali’i Golf Course.
Heta originated in the Coral Sea between Australia and the Solomon Islands early last week, then went north towards Tokelau before making a hairpin turn back south to Samoa on Wednesday afternoon. A hurricane warning was in force for American Samoa in Friday, following weather reports from the Joint Typhoon centre in Hawai’i.
The Sunday Samoan understands that that warning has since been downgraded to gale force watch. Heta could be the first cyclone to hit Samoa in nearly a decade. Cyclones Ofa in 1990 and Val in 1991 were the last major storms to hit the country, causing hundreds of millions of tala worth of damage. Savai’i was badly hit by both cyclones.