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Travel Alert: South Pacific Tropical Cyclone Season

December 16, 2011

The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to the South Pacific region about the ongoing threat of tropical cyclones affecting the area.  While tropical cyclones in the South Pacific may occur throughout the year, the South Pacific Tropical Cyclone Season began on November 1 and ends April 30.  U.S. citizens living in or traveling to the region should monitor local weather reports and take other appropriate action as needed.  This Travel Alert replaces the South Pacific Cyclone Season Travel Alert issued on December 1, 2011 to incorporate technical edits and expires on April 30, 2012.

Each tropical cyclone season, the South Pacific region experiences approximately nine tropical cyclones, about half of which reach Category 3 intensity, or above, and have the potential to cause severe destruction.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommends that people living or traveling in regions prone to tropical storms and tropical cyclones be prepared; for further information about tropical cyclone preparedness, please visit NOAA's Tropical Cyclones Preparedness Guide at www.nws.noaa.gov/os/hurricane/resources/TropicalCyclones11.pdf

Severe tropical cyclones have caused death, injury, and extensive property damage.  Many U.S. citizens traveling in this region during tropical cyclone season were forced to delay their return to the United States or other travel because of infrastructure damage to airports and limited flight availability.  Roads were washed out or blocked by debris, impeding access to airports and land routes out of affected areas.  In the event of a tropical cyclone, you may not be able to depart an affected area for 24 to 48 hours or more, particularly if you are residing in or visiting a South Pacific Island country where air service is limited.

You also may encounter uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous conditions after storms pass.  In many places, tropical cyclones are often accompanied by damaging high tides and flooding.  If you are living or staying close to the ocean or other bodies of water, you may be at higher risk.  Landslides and mudslides also are a serious concern during periods of heavy rain.  Looting and sporadic violence sometimes occur after natural disasters.  Be sure to check with local authorities for safety and security updates.  Weather conditions or damage to infrastructure may delay or prevent needed assistance from U.S. embassy and host country security personnel.

If the damage in the aftermath of a storm requires evacuation, the Department of State and our embassies and consulates overseas work to identify and recommend the safest and most efficient means of travel away from the disaster.  Commercial airlines are the best, and often least expensive, source of transportation in an evacuation.  The Department arranges other means of transport, including U.S. military support, only as a last resort when commercial transportation is completely unavailable.  The Department of State does not provide free transportation, but it has the authority to provide you a loan to return to the United States if you are in financial need. You should always obtain travel insurance to cover unexpected expenses during an emergency, as well as medical insurance with provision for emergency medical evacuations to the United States.  Commercial medical evacuations can cost $100,000 or more, and may not be covered by your insurance.

If you are living in or traveling to storm-prone regions overseas, you should prepare by organizing a kit containing a supply of bottled water, non-perishable food items, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio and vital documents, including your passport, and/or birth certificate and other photo identification, in a waterproof container.  Emergency shelters often have access only to basic resources and limited medical and food supplies.

Be sure to monitor local media to stay aware of weather developments.  For further information on tropical cyclone warnings in the South Pacific region, please consult the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Honolulu at http://www.usno.navy.mil/JTWC and the National Weather Service's Central Pacific Hurricane Center, http://www.prh.noaa.gov/hnl/cphc Fiji's regional meteorological center responsible for tropical cyclone warnings in the South Pacific region at http://www.met.gov.fj/ or the Government of Australia's Bureau of Meteorology at http://www.bom.gov.au/cyclone.

Minor tropical storms can develop into tropical cyclonesvery quickly, limiting the time available for you to evacuate safely.  Tell family and friends in the United States of your whereabouts, and keep in close contact with your tour operator, hotel staff, and local officials for evacuation instructions in the event of a weather emergency.  Please protect your travel and identity documents against loss or damage, as the need to replace lost documentation could delay or otherwise complicate your return to the United States.

We encourage all U.S. citizens abroad to enroll with the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at http://travel.state.gov/step or with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  By enrolling, you can receive the embassy's or consulate's most recent safety and security updates during your trip.  Enrolling also ensures that we can reach you, or your designated emergency points of contact, during an emergency.  Stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution.  Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well.  While consular officers will do their utmost to assist you in a crisis, please be aware that local authorities have primary responsibility for the welfare of people living or traveling in their jurisdictions.

You will find additional information on cyclones and storm preparedness on the Bureau of Consular Affairs' Hurricane Season - Know Before You Go website at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis_pa_tw_2915.html. You can receive updated information on travel in cyclone-prone regions from the Department of State by calling 1-888-407-4747 within the United States and Canada, or from other areas, 1-202-501-4444.  If you travel in the region, please check the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate that has consular responsibilities for the territory you will be visiting.  For further information, please consult the Country Specific Information website for the appropriate country or territory.