Devastation from cyclone threatens future of Niue, the world's smallest nation

A state of emergency was declared in the tiny South Pacific nation of Niue yesterday after a powerful cyclone smashed into the island, killing at least one person and virtually flattening the capital, Alofi.

Cyclone Heta, described by islanders as the "worst in living memory", unleashed its full force on Tuesday, packing winds of up to 187mph. It caused widespread damage, lifting roofs off houses and destroying buildings including Niue's hospital. The country's Premier, Young Vivian, who was visiting New Zealand, said: "I'm absolutely worried for my little country."

A woman was killed and her baby was among several people seriously injured when a roof collapsed at the height of the category-five cyclone, the most severe type. Roads were closed, telephone and power lines were down and, with Niue's only satellite dish damaged, the Polynesian island was cut off from the rest of the world.

Niue, which lies 1,375 miles north-east of Auckland, is the world's smallest self-governing state. The 100-square-mile coral atoll is home to 1,700 people, and the country - lacking in natural resources - is heavily reliant on New Zealand aid. New Zealand was preparing to dispatch a relief flight today carrying water, shelter and medical supplies. Mr Vivian will travel home on the plane, together with two aid officials.

But while short-term help was on its way, there were grave fears about Niue's ability to rebuild. Even before the cyclone struck, questions were being raised about the nation's viability following the severe population decline. Some 20,000 Niueans live in New Zealand, which administered the island until 1974 and offered citizenship to locals when it gained independence.

The cyclone destroyed not only staple crops such as bananas, breadfruit and taro (a starchy root vegetable), but also caused extensive damage to vanilla and limes, planted more recently.

Mr Vivian said: "Any cyclone with that strength is going to wipe out whatever efforts we have made in the past years in terms of agricultural products. This will really knock us back in terms of building the country economically. It will knock us right back to square one." He also feared the cyclone would accelerate depopulation, with people choosing to emigrate rather than rebuild. "It has proven so in the past, because if they [Niueans] go through too many of these cyclones, they just give up and leave," he said.

Captain Cook arrived in Niue to a hostile reception in 1774 and departed in haste, calling it Savage Island. Niue - which is pronounced "nu-ay" and translates as "behold the coconut" - became a British protectorate in 1900 but soon afterwards was given to New Zealand. The 14 villages are now full of abandoned houses being reclaimed by the jungle, and there is a chronic skills shortage.

Niueans fear that their 1,000-year-old language and culture will die out unless the country's future is secured. Some expatriates say Niue's only hope of survival lies in reuniting with New Zealand. But islanders are fiercely protective of their independence, and Mr Vivian has implored emigrants to return home.

A Niuean official told expatriates recently: "The warm weather, hospitality, warmth of the people... and the awesome lifestyle will more than make up for the salary."

Niueans extol the island's heavenly beaches, the almost non-existent crime rate and the plentiful seafood that includes crabs so large that people walk them on leashes. Life is so relaxed that, according to one saying, the dogs chase the cats at walking pace. That idyllic image has been smashed by the cyclone, which veered close to several other small Pacific island nations.

News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
people
News
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was left red faced but, thankfully, unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards, sending her tumbling off the stage.
peopleIggy Azalea was left red faced but apparently unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards
News
newsComedian Lee Hurst started trend with first tweet using the hashtag
News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Extras
indybest

Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition