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Cyclone Ula rings in the New year

Thursday 31 December 2015 | Published in Regional

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PACIFIC – As Tuvalu recovers from extensive wind and tidal damage caused by gale-force winds, national disaster officials in the South Pacific region are monitoring the development of a newly-born cyclone.

The Category One system developed on Wednesday night and has caused stormy weather around Kiribati, Tokelau and Tuvalu throughout the week.

Early yesterday morning Cyclone Ula was located to east of American Samoa, around 560 km east northeast of Apia and north of the northern Cook Islands heading in a south east direction.

Two further tropical depressions in the region also have the potential to intensify into cyclones with a dramatic beginning to the New year forecast.

Forecasters at the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre expect Ula to track in a curve to the southwest of American Samoa. By Saturday, Ula is expected to slow as it approaches Fiji.

The Fiji Meteorological Service says Ula is not expected to intensify at this stage.

Senior Forecaster Misaeli Funaki says Ula is a small system at present with much of the power restricted to its compact centre.

“The associated trough is the thing that has been experienced in many countries in the south west Pacific

“We have been monitoring storm warnings from the north, from Kiribati towards Tokelau and Tuvalu and on its current track there is also a storm warning that has been issued for Niue over the last 24 hours as well.”

All islands in the Tuvalu group were pounded on Monday and Tuesday by strong gusts of wind up to 100 kilometres per hour, with roofs blown off houses and many trees uprooted.

The national disaster co-ordinator, Sumeo Silu, says although there was no loss of life, almost 40 houses and 10 shops were damaged, some beyond repair.

“We have some relocated families, nearly 30 families we evacuated. That’s from Monday morning, because their houses were blown away.

“Likewise their houses were inundated and we moved them to their close families or relatives. Some we managed to move to the evacuation centre.”

Silu says they are now preparing for food shortages and warning people to take shelter from a low pressure front approaching from the west, which the Fiji Metservice says has the potential to develop into a Category One cyclone.

A Tuvalu journalist says the damaging winds on Funafuti yesterday were the strongest she has ever experienced, Radio New Zealand reports.

Yvette D’Unienville is the editor of Radio Tuvalu News and says the winds blew the roof off the house next door, during a two-hour long gale early on Tuesday morning.

The Tuvalu Metservice is still forecasting wind gusts of up to 85 kilometres per hour as a disturbance moves away from the island group, but another one threatens from the west.

D’Unienville says many breadfruit trees, which are an important source of the staple diet, were uprooted.

“One big breadfruit tree at our neighbour’s place has already been uprooted and then on the other side of the road there was another breadfruit tree that was also uprooted.

“Some houses on the capital were really damaged, you know rooftops were blown off and window louvres were broken because of aluminium sheets that were flying around.”

D’Unienville says she is concerned for the outer islands and the lack of food, as boats are tied up at Funafuti and unable to transport supplies.

In American Samoan, a flash flood warning is still in effect and wind, small craft and high surf advisories are in force.

The Department of Public Works says it has responded to flooding in Pago Pago and Nu’uuli. The Emergency Operations Centre says there have not yet been any evacuations.

A heavy rain warning remains in effect for Samoa with flooding possible for vulnerable areas. Strong westerly winds continue.

Meanwhile, maritime authorities in Solomon Islands are searching for three people missing at sea as bad weather in the country continues.

The director of Solomon Islands Maritime Safety says the trio failed to arrive in Honiara on Monday, having set out from Sepi in Isabel Province about 200 kilometres away.

Tim Harris says he knows they are in a banana boat powered by a 40 horsepower outboard motor and authorities are working on the scenario that they have encountered engine problems and are still onboard the boat adrift at sea.

Harris says a strong weather warning remains in place for much of the country and small watercraft are strongly advised not to attempt any inter-island travel. - PNC sources