Tropical Cyclone Evan is battering Samoa and American Samoa in the South Pacific with wind gusts up to 130 mph, heavy rain and pounding surf.
The National Weather Service in Pago Pago issued hurricane and high surf warnings for the islands as well as a flash flood watch.
There were reports of two deaths from the storm in Samoa, an independent country with a population of 183,000. American Samoa is a U.S. territory with a population of about 55,000.
The weather service said Thursday morning that Evan was nearly stationary over the islands. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii said Evan's strength could increase over the next 48 hours, making it a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 126 mph, before it moves away from the Samoan islands to the southwest toward Fiji.
The islands straddle the International Dateline in the Pacific, meaning when it's early Friday in Samoa, it's early Thursday in American Samoa.
Fiji's Meteorological Service said Evan was expected to arrive in that country's waters by Sunday as a Category 3 storm.
Journalist Cherelle Jackson told ABC News of Australia that there was heavy damage in the Samoan capital of Apia, with houses flattened by the storm.
Storm surge and high surf, which the U.S. National Weather Service said could reach 20 feet in the islands, was making a mess of Apia, Jackson said.
Jackson said water and power service had been knocked out in Apia.
Many of the open-style Samoan homes, fales, which don't have windows or doors, sustained heavy damage, she said.
"I don't think we were well prepared because the warning didn't get serious until late last night," Jackson said in a phone interview with ABC.
Jackson said food could be a problem once the storm passes because the trees that supply Samoan staples, such as breadfruit, taro and bananas, had taken a heavy hit from the storm's winds.
"The breadfruits are just all over the road," she said.
The New Zealand high commissioner in Apia, Nick Hurley, told Radio New Zealand of heavy damage.
"From what I have seen and heard it has made a huge impact on, for a start, all the vegetation, the trees, the infrastructure, all around Apia the power is out. A lot of people don’t have any water . The trees have snapped, in a lot of cases have actually come down across roads, crashed into the fale, onto the houses," Hurley is quoted as saying.
Images from Samoa were popping up on Twitter.
Reminds me of the cyclone `Val' of December 1990, which devastated Amer Samoa (at least). I was sent to Pago Pago and surrounding area for a month in January to assess the damage and replace/repair, as were both the USACE and FEMA, that I know of. (Quite an experience all round, BTW.) Must be cyclone time in the area during that part of the year.
I was in Apia after Ofa, with the US Army, restoring communications and air lifting wounded and supplies. Was bad then and this storm sounds much worse.
25th ID – Tropic Lightning
Somoans are a proud and resilient people ,they will survive,they always have..My prayers go out to them,good luck!!
Our prayers are with you all both in Western Samoa and American Samoa, Especially to my dad and his family in Pesega, Apia Samoa...I'm still trying to get thru the phone lines...May Gods love be upon you all...
I pray for everyone's safety and hope that any damage is minimum and lives spared....This is generally
hurricane season at home...SAMOA, I know your FAITH is strong and WE will all help rebuild you to the happy
and friendly nation that you are.My heart and prayers are with you all.
2012 the end of the world is just around the corner and this could be the first indication
My prayers goes out to the people of Samoa ( American and Western Samoa) ! May the Almighty keep you safe in His hands.