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Worst storm in memory hits Pacific Isle, one dead
( 2004-01-07 14:16) (Agencies)

The worst cyclone in memory has flattened the capital of the tiny South Pacific island state of Niue, killing at least one person and injuring several, officials said Wednesday.

Tropical cyclone Heta, packing wind gusts of almost 186 mph, slammed into the island of about 2,100 people just east of the international dateline Monday, local time.

Communications have been cut by the huge storm but New Zealand foreign office officials said they had been able to contact New Zealand's High Commissioner Sandra Lee, by satellite telephone in the only foreign embassy in Niue.

Lee had confirmed at least one person had been killed, several more had been injured and widespread damage had been left in Heta's wake around the capital Alofi, said New Zealand's Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry spokesman Brad Tattersfield.

"She's described it as the worst cyclone in living memory. She said that the main town which is called Alofi has been flattened," Tattersfield told Reuters.

The island's only hospital had been damaged and other communications were cut when Niue's only satellite dish was damaged in the storm, which hit early Tuesday, New Zealand time.

Niue Premier Young Vivian, who was in the New Zealand city of Auckland when Heta struck, said damage was widespread.

"(There are a) suspected two people missing and one seriously injured with head injuries and broken bones," Vivian told Radio New Zealand.

"They are requesting medical supplies, water pumps and some tents. I believe that a number of houses were seriously damaged," he said from Auckland.


Tattersfield said a national disaster has been declared and New Zealand was preparing to send emergency aid to the island, 1,675 miles northeast of the New Zealand capital of Wellington, as soon as possible.

"The initial flight will just have some emergency relief equipment but will be making efforts to do a full assessment of the needs of the island so that more sort of extensive preparations can be made to get the right sort of equipment up there," Tattersfield said.

Vivian feared long-term damage had been caused to Niue's few cash crops such as taro, vanilla and limes.

"Any cyclone with that strength, that force, is going to wipe out whatever efforts we have made in the past years in terms of agricultural products," he said.

Niue, the world's largest coral island measuring just 100 square miles once known as Savage Island, took the full brunt of Heta after the first major cyclone of the season sideswiped neighboring Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga.

About 1.5 times the size of Washington, D.C., Polynesian Niue has been a self-governing state since 1974 in free association with New Zealand, which administers its foreign affairs.

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