Hastings resident Diann Thompson - one of the first Kiwis to return from cyclone-ravaged Samoa - has described the experience as "horrifying".
At least four people are dead, six are still missing, and 200 injured from Cyclone Evan.
Arriving home on Saturday from a year-long teaching contract at Viala Beach School, she said the "winds were really, really bad".
"We weren't in a fale - we were in a building with walls and a roof - but were hunkered down when we heard this noise. We thought it was thunder but then we thought, oh my goodness that sounds more than thunder.
"Then we heard cracking of trees when suddenly, from up the hill, the river came down and took off a fale in a flash flood.
"The people who were living in it grabbed their kids and got out. The river just came straight down the hill and took the road out - the culvert couldn't cope with it. It was about 3m away from our house.
"The house next door to us took up about 5m of mud and water."
She said it was a traumatic experience when the cyclone struck on Thursday.
"We were on the deck watching, you should've heard our language. All you could hear was this big roar. You think we have storms in New Zealand, but it's nothing like in Samoa."
Ms Thompson said she was devastated for the Samoan people.
She has donated much of her savings to victims, including her school's caretaker whose entire village no longer exists.
"Samoa's been wiped out completely by this. It's absolutely sad. They need everything - from clothes to fresh water. Anything we can give them, they need."
She was already scheduled to return home after the school year when Air New Zealand rang her to say it had a 2am flight to New Zealand, forcing her to go 36 hours without sleep.
On her flight from Samoa was Auckland minister Tana Vaotuua, who described seeing a 12m container on top of a house, cars on their sides, roofless houses and flattened trees.
Apia woman Sieni Voorwinden said she spent a terrifying night huddled with her four children and fearing the roof of their house would be ripped off. "It was so scary. At times I feared for my life."
Ms Voorwinden, in Auckland to spend Christmas with family, echoed comments by some Samoans that they did not receive enough warning and so were not prepared for the storm. "We had nothing, so we just prayed a lot."
The Ainsworth family of Melbourne spent two years living in Samoa without incident, only for the cyclone to strike two days before they were due to return home.
Jane, Mark and their two young daughters rode out the storm by sleeping together in the lounge of their sturdy house, but were shocked by the desperate pleas for help being made over the radio.
"People were ringing in and saying 'I'm in the rafters with my kids, please help me'," Mr Ainsworth said.
Fiji has declared a curfew as it braces for Cyclone Evan, due to reach there today. Tourists have been evacuated from island resorts off the western coast of Viti Levu to the Nadi area.
Additional reporting: APN