12 December 2019
Letter From Niue
Dear People of St Johns and St Philips
We have been asked by Christian World service [our overseas mission outreach which works in partnership with locals in the countries they go to] to contribute to the two disasters which occurred over the Christmas holiday period - the earthquake in Iran, and the hurricane in Niue . The Moderator of PCANZ has asked for CWS to help in the rebuilding of Niue.
Sometimes is seems as though there are so many appeals that we feel overwhelmed, but it is important that we as a parish are made aware of needs of people in other lands as well as our own concerns. It is always up to each of us or us as a community as to how we respond. Prayer, whether privately or in our worship is one way, practical gifts or help or sending money so others can help is another.
Sharon Tohovaka [nee Hill] one of our own members, who lives in Niue, has written a description of the cyclone to her elder in our Parish. This account may help us to understand, through the eyes of someone who is one of us, the effect the hurricane has had and continues to have.
An edited version of Sharon's letter follows...
Nuie, 13th January, 2004
What can I say about events in Niue over the past 8 days? The main thing is that John and I are fine. We're tired, especially John, the hours he is working cannot be maintained. We had our first uninterrupted sleep last night. I'm confined to the house keeping an eye on my frail father-in-law. He wants to go home, but his house is uninhabitable at present having lost its roof, door and windows. John hasn't the time to fix it at present.
But my worries are insignificant. Our house is fine. Cyclone Heta hit Monday 5 January. On the Sunday John was busy as disaster co-ordinator, ensuring the hospital was ready to evacuate, emergency generators in good repair etc. We managed to batten our house on Sunday just as it got dark. On Sunday, the rain had begun and the wind was lifting, but still a stiff breeze and gusty. I had begun to wonder if the cyclone had turned away. I prepared as best I knew how while John continued to work. I filled all available bottles with water, filled the bath to supply water for bathing and flushing, made meatloaf to eat cold in the event of power outage and made bread.
Monday we woke to overcast skies, heavy rain and strong wind. By midday we were feeling the effects of the cyclone. The wind was blowing at around 150 km/hr gusting to 180 km/hr. Foolish me! I thought this was the worst.!
The weather continued worsening. Around 1.30pm John delivered a couple evacuated from the Matava's Resort. I was to be grateful for their presence as John did not make it home until late Tuesday. At 2.30pm John delivered his father and the news that a house in Alofi North had gone. By 4pm two more houses had been swept into the sea. This was the last update I had from John before the real power of the cyclone.
Our house is on the upper plateau of the island so was not in danger from the sea. The wind hit the house end-on, concrete walls, for this I was grateful. At the height of the cyclone, the wind was measured at 290 km/hr. After dark, a missile hit and smashed the front door. We had not battened this in case we needed to exit in a hurry. The wind was so strong the rain was horizontal. We rapidly shifted furniture to dry rooms, for within minutes there were several inches of water on the floor in the living/dining area. Dennis (from the Matavai) took down the bathroom door to use as an external door. It was too big and we straightened wire coathangers to use to tie it in place. We then camped in the hallway, outside the toilet, with a candle in the shower for light. We spent the remainder of the night there.
All around we could hear loud cracks as trees fell. I'm talking big trees! a metre or more in diameter of the trunk. The coconut trees lasted longest, then they also succumbed. At some stage, my neighbour's carport detached from the house and flew into our back garden travelling the length of the house and settling in the far corner. Her fridge flew over 3 cars parked at the property boundary and settled in our front garden. In the morning I was to find and still find, debris, paint tins, wooden boards, roof tiles, roofing iron, solar panels, plumbing etc.
At 4am, John came and collected all able-bodied men to form search parties. He told us to be strong, that the entire coastal area of Alofi South was gone. The women were to prepare our homes to receive refugees. All this was done in darkness. The power down and the water off.
Once daylight arrived, Dennis and I went to check my father-in-law?s house, it also is on the upper level so enroute we saw all the trees down and relatively minor damage, like his house, no roof, doors or windows.
Then we drove down south to Aliluki, where I lived when single. I was not prepared for what I saw. I did not recognise anything! For a stretch of 2 kms or so, nothing stands. The houses, shops, hospital, service station, Niue Motel all gone. I do not have the words to describe the devastation. It is as if powerful bombs have been dropped, obliterating everything. All the foliage is gone, stripped by the waves.
Niue stands straight up from the sea to a height of 60ft. The waves were not breaking until they were on land. One old lady in the village of Namukulu tells of watching a wave and when it was gone, so was the house across the road. The next wave crossed the road, and her garden, to wash over her bed. A number of people had not evacuated the coastal areas when the red alert was issued. I guess they thought the height of the cliffs would save them. Also, no-one expected the intensity. Cyclone Heta was upgraded to a hurricane shortly before hitting us. On a scale of 1-5, this was a 5.
John and the rest of the Police were still rescuing people near 6pm, with the waves smashing into their vehicles. John estimates that they saved 100 people.
The waves carried huge boulders from the sea, the buildings were essentially bombarded with rocks up to 1½ metres in diameter. The rocks remain where houses used to be.
We have been very fortunate. The power and water have been restored to the entire island, though we have a power outage as I write. We got water on day 5 and power on day 6. You cannot imagine how incredible it felt to have a shower. Prior to the resumption of supply, I allowed myself 2 cups to sponge bath and 1 cup for my head. This following a day of heavy manual labour in 30ºC heat. To get power the next day, and within a week of the cyclone was miraculous. I had expected to be without power for up to a month.
We cooked on the BBQ but had to boil the water to drink and could not do this. We are still boiling water while we wait for the aid agency people to test the water.
Now, 8 days after the cyclone we are fully operational at home. But our poor little island! Reports tell us that 80% of the island is defoliated. All our virgin rainforest is gone. Along the coast ? up to 12 metres of cliff has gone. I do not mean off the top but the 60ft vertically and 12 metres laterally (60ft up by 12m ->). The rain during the cyclone carried salt water which killed everything in its path.
Our biggest risk now is fire. There has been no rain for 8 days. One spark could ignite the entire island. We have limited resources to fight fires 1 fire truck and crew. Already there is a fire at Mikutavake that we have battled for 4 days. John?s village of Makefu was also hit badly by the cyclone. The church a concrete structure was washed into the sea. The Pastor's house, in the middle of the village was deroofed, 3 other houses were also washed away. The morning following the cyclone, no road was passable.
The searchers also found the body of Cathy Alec battered by rocks as she tried to escape her home. Her baby son is fighting for his life in Starship Hospital having been medi-vacced.
The Australians have set up a mobile field hospital at the Youth Camp. N.Z. has sent equipment and food. Locals have done an amazing job clearing the roads and tidying their houses and work areas. Phil Goff visited yesterday and it sounds like he supports the continuation of an independent Niue. The re-building will be time and labour intensive. I estimate a good 6 months before Niue is close to truly operational. French Polynesia have promised 30 kitset houses, erected on site. They intend to begin building here in 3 weeks. I think we lost around 50 homes, this is more than 10% of the households on Niue. A number of government owned dwellings were also destroyed, the government needs to find funds to replace these.
Only time will tell. I expect the situation to get worse before it gets better. I have promised John that if disease becomes prevalent, I will move to N.Z., for a while. In the meantime, I remain here in a support role. As of today, our home is a feeding station for the Police who are working around the clock. I was given one hour's notice to provide lunch for 8. Supplies are limited, I was given tins of corned beef and loaves of bread. It was a little like the TV programme "Ready, Steady, Cook". With the addition of pumpkin and onions I made a hearty stew. Served with rice and bread, it filled everyone and Niueans have large appetites. I'm to feed the troops again tomorrow, this time with only tins of tuna, I'll devise something I hope.
There is a rumour that school will not operate at all this year, or not for a while. Nothing is confirmed. It will depend on the number of students remaining and the number of teachers available.
Other than the cyclone, I cannot think of news to tell you. The whole nation is traumatised, even those of us who have our homes. The storm and its aftermath are all consuming. I hope I have managed to convey the cyclone, our experiences and the aftermath. I?ll sign off, hopefully sand a more positive and forward looking letter in due course.
It could be helpful to encourage those who are living through it. It can help to know that you are not alone and others do care. [Contact Sharon through our office if you want to send her a note]
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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