Australia's High Commission in Apia flooded out, but ready to assist | Pacific Beat

Australia's High Commission in Apia flooded out, but ready to assist

Australia's High Commission in Apia flooded out, but ready to assist

Updated 14 December 2012, 18:25 AEDT

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has offered its sympathies to the Government and people of Samoa following Tropical Cyclone Evan, which caused widespread damage.

It is working with the Australian High Commission in Apia to provide assistance to any Australians who may have been affected.

The Australian High Commission building is currently closed due to flooding but officials continue to work from alternative sites.

Local communications in Samoa are operating intermittently, but the Department says if there are welfare concerns for family and friends in the region, attempts should first be made to contact them directly.

If they are still uncontactable and there are concerns for their welfare, Australians should call DFAT's 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on 1300 555 135 or +61 2 62613305;

The Department says it will continue to liaise with local authorities to monitor the trajectory of the cyclone and the possibility of it affecting other countries in the region, and stand ready to assist, if requested by the Government of Samoa.

For an udpdate on the situation Bruce Hill spoke to Australia's High Commissioner to Samoa, Stephen Henningham.

Presenter: Bruce Hill

Speaker: Australia's High Commissioner to Samoa, Stephen Henningham

HENNINGHAM; Yeah, and communications are not great at present, but I can hear loud and clear.

HILL: OK. So what's the situation, have you been out and about and seen some of the damage yourself today?

HENNINGHAM: Eh yeah, there has been extensive damage and let me begin my conveying sympathies and condolences to the people of Samoa, because of the casualties, two reported deaths and other unconfirmed deaths and casualties and certainly a great deal of property damage, extensive damage in the capital, Apia, and across the country. So we certainly do convey our sympathy.

HILL: My understanding is that the High Commission itself hasn't entirely escaped a bit of damage?

HENNINGHAM: Yeah, we had some storm damage, some minor flooding and some damage inflicted by a roof that flew off a nearby school and it got to the point we weren't able to operate effectively from there, so we moved back up the hill, so we're continuing operations from the residential compound, and what we're doing there Bruce is following up as much as we can given the poor communications with Australian citizens around the country, both residents and also tourists that we can track down and so far, we haven't had any reports of casualties, but a number of people have seen in pretty difficult circumstances with flooded houses or with hotels that have suffered significant damage, so it's really a very difficult time.

HILL: Now, the Samoan government's declared a disaster and they're accessing the initial damage. What usually happens after a disaster like this is that if a government in the Pacific feels that it needs some external assistance, it'll make an official request to Australia and New Zealand and other aid partners. Has that happened yet or are you expecting it to happen any stage in the near future?

HENNINGHAM: That hasn't happened as yet Bruce, but this afternoon, I rang the acting prime minister, to convey our sympathies and concern and we had a brief discussion and the expectation is that they'll be a meeting tomorrow morning, depending on how things unfold, that donor partners and key officials will be involved in that and by that stage, there should be a clearer picture of what exactly the short term disaster response requirements are and then over the days and weeks that follow, we'll get a sense of longer term recovery, but we're as I said to the acting prime minister we'll standby to help and just waiting to see if we are able to assist and we'll just see how that develops over the next couple of days.

HILL: What kind of assistance can Australia offer Samoa in an emergency like this? I remember back, of course, the tsunami disaster awhile back and a very substantial aid effort. So what kind of things are most useful for Samoa in a situation like this if we were asked?

HENNINGHAM: Yeah, well, up front it would be an initial cash grant up to $200,000 to help out and then it's certainly a matter of talking to the Samoan authorities and working out what they need. It might possibly be personnel to provide back up in one area or another. It may be equipment, tents or shelters for people.

HILL: Mr Henningham, we're having a little bit of trouble hearing you on the line, if you could just speak up.

One final question before we go. What's the situation with power and water and are radio stations able to operate, are the government able to communicate with the people in Samoa?

HENNINGHAM: Eh, yes, I think the power is supposed to be out. The power facility was actually damaged, but some radio stations are in operation and the Samoan government is issuing regular communiques that update the community on what the latest picture is.

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Bruce Hill

Bruce Hill

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Bruce is one of the Pacific’s most experienced journalists with nearly 20 years covering the region and has won several international awards.

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