Cyclone Evan

 

18 December 2012 | General Interest

Cyclone Evan Strikes Samoa

Cyclone Evan struck Samoa late on the evening of Wednesday 12 December and raged long into Thursday 13 December.  The text below is a copy of an email sent by Fr Chris Ford to friends and supporters.

 

Dear Friends

We are all safe and well. All the Salesians and the Salesian Sister are safe. None of the works belonging to the Salesians or the Salesian Sisters has been seriously damaged. There is some flood and wind damage to most places but it is not of a serious nature. I have yet to be able to inspect the workshops at Don Bosco Technical Centre in Alafua. However, there is little structural damage. There is probably some damage to some of the machinery but it may take some time before this is fully assessed.

The island of Upolu was the hardest hit by Cyclone Evan. Savai’i seems to have been spared the worst of the cyclone. The capital Apia seems to have been the hardest hit. In some villages (suburbs) in the capital the damage has been absolutely devastating. The hardest hit were villages along the river, where there was massive flooding caused by torrential rain. The wind damage in Apia is also extensive. The trees on the mountain have been stripped on their leaves and the mountain appears as only a shadow it its former self. Caritas Samoa has been at the forefront of relief efforts, with the distribution of food, water and materials.

There is still almost no power on Upolu. However, it does appear that a few small localised areas that now have some power restored. The process of restoring power is likely to be very extended as the damage to electrical infrastructure is so extensive. The problem the people now face is lack of water. Many villages inside and outside the capital are without water. Here in Leauvaa we have mains water at the residence for some reason but only at two stand pipes one outside the house and the other outside the hall. Local families have formed a queue this morning to get water from our place. There has been an official announcement that the water is not likely to be restored for two weeks.

Despite everything the people remain remarkably resilient, despite the cancelation across the island of celebrations in preparation for Christmas. There is traditionally 7 or 8 days of communal carols and related festivities in preparation for Christmas. But these have been almost universally cancelled because of the lack of power and the need for ongoing clean-up efforts.

Everywhere the damage to the crops has been extensive, especially the bananas and the breadfruit both of which are staples. The bananas will re-generate within a couple of months but the breadfruit crop is completely destroyed for the season. There are too many large up-rooted breadfruit trees to count and this will have an impact for some years to come. Almost every family in Samoa relies on subsistence farming to some extent. Each family has access to at least some land on which the grow vegetables, taro (a key staple that has survived the worse of the damage), bananas, coconuts, etc. This is essential for most families to ensure that they have a constant food supply.

The farmers who rely on their production for their basic income have been particularly hard hit. The destruction of the crops is heartbreaking. But the farmers were all out in the plantations as soon as they could to cut back the bananas so that they will sprout as soon as possible.

There is still almost no fishing. The canoes have not yet ventured out onto the lagoon despite several days of calm weather now. I understand that the fish stocks have been seriously affected and that it may take some time to repopulate the key fishing areas as the fish have been driven away or have sort shelter in deeper water.

The destruction of the crops will have a long term impact upon food supplies. While people are now surviving on bananas and breadfruit salvaged from the plantations, the crunch will come as the new year approaches and food supplies run short for many families. Very few families have cash reserves, so any money they do have will be used for food, thus reducing their spending capacity for other necessities. 25% of Samoan families already experience “basic needs poverty”, which means that while they have access to food from their plantations, they do not have sufficient money for transportation, health care, education, clothing, communications, etc. With still not water and an expected increase in the price of food, the medium term impact will have reduced cash capacity for most families.

The longer term impact will be the flow-on effect of the reduced cash capacity of families. In a country where thousands of children do not return to school at the beginning of the new academic year in February, it is highly probable that the school retention rate will reduce further because of lack of cash as well as the need for family labour to work on the plantations, which is one factor having a negative impact of school retention rates. It is highly likely that there will be reduced enrolments at our Technical Centre in Apia and that the fee payment rate will decrease.

The Don Bosco Samoa Project Development Office had planned to launch an Educational Sponsorship Fund for 2013. We will be continuing with this fundraising initiative, which is now all the more important because of the longer term impact of Cyclone Evan.

Donations to the Educational Sponsorship Fund can be made via the Don Bosco Samoa website

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