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Face to face with the dark side of paradise

  • 29 April 2016


It can be a dangerous thing, travelling to paradise. Those turquoise lagoons and snow-white beaches and lushly foliaged hills often conceal a more sinister side, a Mr Hyde to the brochures' bright-and-shiny Dr Jekyll.

So it was in the South Pacific island of Samoa this week, when Cyclone Amos skirted by.

It should have come as no surprise to me that this was a vulnerable place, for Samoa, comprising the tiniest, most insubstantial atoll, seems to have been placed in some act of randomness in the gaping centre of the vast Pacific Ocean.

It's as though shards of earth dislodged by the clashing of tectonic plates have spun out of control, landed in this oceanic morass and taken root.

Before news of the impending weather event reached us on Friday night, my husband and I had been enjoying the pleasures of Samoa — its warm, unendingly hospitable people, its soporific quality (never had we slept so much, so easily), its many attractions, such as the one-time home of the very creator of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson, who had come to this paradise in the hope that it would cure him of tuberculosis (sadly, it didn't; he is buried on a hill beside his island home).

We took little notice, perhaps because we'd quickly settled into the no-worries rhythm of island life; perhaps because the locals had seemed so nonplussed by Amos' approach.

But change came swiftly. Next morning we were told the cyclone was headed for Samoa's main island, Upolu, where we were staying. The capital city, Apia, was bracing for floods; buildings were being sandbagged; New Zealand's High Commission had closed; all flights in and out had been cancelled.

Still, we felt calm, for there wasn't a breath of wind in the sky, and the rain — falling in fat cold drops that morning when we'd gone for a swim in So Tua Trench — had cleared. There was even a weak shaft of sunlight poking through the clouds. Surely the cyclone would change its course.


"In the space of one day we'd gone from being happily marooned on a romantic tropical island to being trapped on a tiny fleck of land upon which a cyclone was bearing down."


But that night the storm was upgraded to the highest category, a five. The Australian High Commission rang our resort to check whether any Australians were staying there. The resort owner and his staff stacked