The first Kiwis to return from cyclone-ravaged Samoa have told of their narrow escapes from the devastation.
Hastings teacher Diann Thompson arrived in Auckland early yesterday on the first New Zealand-bound flight out of Samoa since category three Cyclone Evan battered the country this week. At least four people are dead, six are still missing, and 200 injured.
Thompson was safe in her home in the hills outside Apia, but watched as a neighbour's house was washed away by a flash flood. The occupants had evacuated.
"It was horrifying," Thompson said. "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."
Popular beach resort Aggie Grey's had been badly damaged and she thought it would be three months before it reopened. It could be three weeks before power was restored.
Thompson, who has been working at Viala Beach School for the last year, was devastated for the Samoan people.
"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."
Fellow passenger Tana Vaotuua, an Auckland minister, 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."
Voorwinden, in Auckland to spend Christmas with family, echoed comments made 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'," Mark said.
Cyclone Evan was expected to reach Fiji tomorrow.
It has been upgraded to a Category 4, meaning more severe damage was possible.