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Neighbors fly aid to cyclone-hit island in South Pacific

June 14, 1997

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) _ France, New Zealand and Australia are combining to fly urgent aid to the tiny South Pacific island state of Tuvalu, hit twice by a cyclone in the past two days.

A New Zealand Air Force transport plane left Auckland on Saturday carrying water and tarpaulins after reports that the 55 inhabitants of Niualakita atoll are desperately short of water, food and shelter after two strikes by Cyclone Keli.

The storm leveled all the homes on the country’s nine atolls, leaving only a church, school and store standing on Niualakita. Stormy seas prevented any boats from landing.

A New Zealand air force cargo plane was to reach Tuvalu’s capital of Funafuti on Sunday.

About 9,000 people live on Tuvalu’s islands, which lie about 2,000 miles east of New Zealand. The islands rarely experience cyclones, which are common further south in the Pacific.

Keli hit the southern atolls of Niualakita and Nukulaelae, then doubled back and hit Niualakita a second time.

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