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Cyclone survivor spent two nights at sea

Monday 17 Dec 2012 5:12 p.m.

A Samoan fisherman believed drowned with his mates has washed ashore alive, after two nights clinging to a bit of driftwood.

But he told 3 News how he watched his own father drown and the crews of three other boats all sucked under by a whirlpool that formed when the cyclone struck.

An Air Force Orion has been searching for them, but Asa Punasi drifted unseen between Lefaga on the island of Upolo and neighbouring Savai'i.

Search and Rescue officials say 10 men from four separate fishing boats are missing off the coast of Samoa. That was initially three, but the number of boats missing was revised late this afternoon.

Another two men made it back to shore alive.

Mr Punasi was still being interviewed by the police when 3 News arrived at his family's home in Apia. Against the odds, he's been reunited with his family, but his father whom he had been fishing with didn't make it back – he was pulled under in surging swells.

"I jumped off the boat and I just swam, but I didn't know where to go," he says.

Mr Punasi and his father had been trying to help two other fishing boats that had got into trouble.

The boats were nine-metre double-hulled vessels with outboard motors.

"When we got to where the boats were, they were spinning around in circles,” he says. “We tried to help them we couldn't."

Mr Punasi drifted for hours. He couldn't see land and was being battered by waves. He credits a piece of wood and part of a coconut tree with saving his life.

"I was thinking about my father when I saw a stick and reached for it. I used it and part of a coconut tree to keep my head above water."

Mr Punasi says he opened his mouth when it rained, and drifted in and out of consciousness.

"I drank a lot of seawater."

He eventually washed up on neighbouring Savai'i around 3am on Friday morning. He woke up, found a local pastor's house and was taken to hospital.

His family are grateful to have him home, but say not having his father around is a big loss. 

"It’s very sad because only he makes money for his family," says Aunty Ta’e Setfano Anasapi.

An Air Force Orion is searching the waters around Savai'i for any trace of four missing vessels, but they say they are having difficulty because of the amount of debris in the water from Cyclone Evan. They say they have found an upturned hull 45km from Manono Island, but they aren't sure whether that is one of the four vessels that went down.

3 News

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