Saturday, January 3, 2004

Storm near W. Samoa
cancels 2 flights

Two Hawaii airlines canceled Samoa-bound flights yesterday as a tropical cyclone bearing down on Western Samoa reached winds estimated at 70 mph, just short of hurricane strength.

Cyclone Heta was about 330 miles north-northwest of the capital Apia on Upolu island last night and is expected to pass close to the westernmost island of Savai'i tomorrow night if it continues on course.

Although American Samoa is 80 miles to the southeast, "it could still have some nasty effects there," said AccuWeather forecaster Michael Sager.

"It is moving south-southeast at 5 knots, which would bring it close to Western Samoa" tomorrow, said National Weather Service forecaster Bob Farrell in Honolulu. "It is expected to reach 105 knots -- 120 miles an hour" by tomorrow.

Some 170 people were booked on Hawaiian Airlines Flight 465, which was due to leave for American Samoa at 5:20 p.m. yesterday. Many of the passengers were called before they headed for the airport, a spokesman said.

Aloha Airlines canceled Flight 321, due to leave at 2:50 p.m. with 18 people bound for Pago Pago. Some 109 Aloha passengers were left in Samoa awaiting the return flight to Hawaii.

A group of Hawaii high school athletes who competed against the American Samoa all-star football team in the Samoa Bowl on New Year's Day will have extra days in Samoa.

"I just talked to them; all they can do is wait," said Malevine Salanoa, wife of Fred Salanoa, the Radford High School football coach who organized the trip. The 26 athletes and five coaches left Dec. 26 on the trip that was also a cultural expedition for the youths, all of Samoan ancestry. They had planned to leave Pago Pago on Hawaiian Flight 466, due to arrive in Honolulu at 5:33 a.m. today.

Hawaiian Airlines officials are watching the storm reports before determining whether the regular Monday flight will leave for Pago Pago, said spokesman Keoni Wagner.

Aloha spokesman Stu Glauberman said the regular Tuesday flight from Honolulu to Pago Pago is expected to leave on schedule and that there will be room for the 18 passengers left here yesterday.

"We're still working on arrangements for the 109 left in Samoa," he said.

Polynesian Airlines, which flies to Apia, has no flight scheduled until Wednesday.

"We'll just wait and see," manager Jim Dehn said.

Sager said the tropical cyclone originated in the Coral Sea between Australia and the Solomon Islands, then went north before heading south.

"The current forecast is that it will strengthen to the equivalent of hurricane strength," Sager said. He said windstorms over 40 miles an hour in the southern Pacific are always called cyclones and not hurricanes.

American Samoa is about 2,300 miles south of Hawaii.


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