Cyclone slams Pacific islands

Relief is underway to two remote South Pacific islands hit by a cyclone.

BY PJ HELLER | BALTIMORE | December 31, 2002

"We are just assuming that those two islands must have been totally devastated."

—Loti Yates

Rescue and relief efforts were underway Tuesday to two remote South Pacific islands hit by a cyclone with nearly 200 mph winds. With all communications links down, the fate of as many as 3,000 people was unknown.

A patrol boat laden with emergency supplies was expected to make what could be a weeklong voyage from the capital of Honiara to Tikopia and Anuta in the Solomon Islands. Aid agencies were also expected to send medical teams and supplies, engineers and temporary shelter to the islands.

The islands do not have airstrips and are only accessible by boat. Rough seas were expected to hamper relief efforts. Radio communication was cut off with the islands following the storms and has not been re-established.

The isolated islands of Tikopia and Anuta, as well as Fataka, some 600 miles southeast of Honira, were slammed by Cyclone Zoe on Saturday and Sunday. Tikopia, the largest of the three islands, and Anuta were believed to be the hardest hit.

"We are just assuming that those two islands must have been totally devastated," said Loti Yates, head of the Disaster Management Office in Honiara. "We are talking about two small islands with a total population of about 1,300 people."

Other estimates have placed the population of Tikopia and Anuta at 3,000. A handful of foreigners, possibly New Zealanders, were believed to be on Tikopia when the Category 5 cyclone struck.

Wind gusts could have hit 223 mph, according to the Tropical Cyclone Warning Center in Australia.

Zoe is the second cyclone of the South Pacific cyclone season, which typically runs from Oct. 1 to May. The first cyclone of the season, Yolande, occurred in early December and did no damage.

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