Fiji under curfew as cyclone arrives

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 18:39 16/12/2012
Super cyclone Evan
Samoa Metreological Service
Super cyclone Evan

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Much of Fiji is now under curfew as it awaits Cyclone Evan - which is threatening to become a devastating category five storm.

Radar pictures show that Evan, which devastated Samoa on Thursday night, is about to hit Fiji tonight and into tomorrow.

It is not known what happened to the 15,000 people of the French islands of Wallis and Futuna, which Evan passed over today.

The upgrade came as Evan was on top of Wallis Island, part of the French territory of Wallis and Futuna. The islands, the only kingdoms within the Republic of France, are now completely cut off.

Authorities there usually take down satellite dishes as cyclones pass over.

The military commissioner for Fiji’s northern district, which includes Vanua Levu, Colonel Ilai Moceica, this afternoon imposed a curfew, saying it was necessary to save lives.

Meanwhile the Fiji Navy has warned all seafarers that travelling during disasters not only threatens the lives of those at sea, but also the Fiji Navy.

The latest warning from the Fiji Meteorological Service has issued storm and gale warnings across a wide area of Fiji, including the Yasawa and Mamanuca areas, popular with tourists.

All tourists at island resorts off the western coast of Viti Levu have been evacuated to the Nadi area. The service is warning that “destructive winds” may begin several hours before the cyclone centre arrives around midnight.

Weather forecasters are predicting that super cyclone Evan will hit New Zealand's Northland and Auckland area toward the end of the week.

Samoa, which was savaged by the storm on Thursday night, has four confirmed dead and eight people missing from fishing boats.

Maritime New Zealand's Rescue Coordination Centre says a Royal New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion has sighted wreckage of a fishing boat, one of three they are looking for which held up to eight men.

It is washed up on the small volcanic island of Apolima, between Upolu and Savai'i but there is no sign of the crew.

Mission coordinator Tracy Brickles says a 30-year-old skipper of one of the boats has been found alive on nearby Monono Island. He has yet to be spoken to by Samoan Police but is believed to have clung to flotsam after the boat tipped over some time on Friday.

The missing boats are all twin-hulled 9m boats fitted with outboard motors.

A French Navy Guardian aircraft from Tahiti has joined the search.

Fiji's military regime has mobilised its large army ahead of Evan's arrival off the north eastern end of Vanua Levu. Track prediction charts have so far kept the eye of the storm out to sea but in the last 12 hours predictions have it much closer to land.

The worst of the storm is likely to hit early Monday morning.

Senior Weather Forcaster Misaele Funaki says heavy rain currently fell in the north eastern part of Fiji and wind will pick up.

"We should be prepared for the winds to increase from later today," he told state radio.

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Dozens of evacuation centres have been set up around the country. The Fiji Meteorological Service is warning of five metre surges.  "This can be made worse by high tide," it says.

"A Category 4 cyclone can result in roofing failures (roofs blown away) as well as extensive damage to doors and windows. Low lying escape routes may be cut off. Major damage to lower floors of buildings near the coast can be expected.
"Land near the coast that is lower than three metres above sea level may be flooded."

Fiji's military leader Voreqe Bainimarama has already warned the storm is an "impending disaster" and urged its people to take it seriously.

Meanwhile in Samoa a National Disaster Council under Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele says over 3200 people have been displaced as their homes were destroyed, mainly by heavy flooding.

Many of those displaced are from Lelata, Ma'agao, Leone, Faatoia and Matautu areas. Their homes were affected by the heavy flooding of the Vaisigano River.

The Commissioner of Police, Lilomaiava Fou Taioalo reported that four people are confirmed dead due to the cyclone, with eight people missing - including five fishermen reportedly missing at sea.

One fisherman, cast adrift, managed to swim to the coast at Salelologa and was saved.

The New Zealand government has approved $50,000 as well as offering aerial survey support, the United States US$50,000 through the Red Cross Society and a grant of US$50,000 from the United Nations Development Program as well as technical assistance in damage assessments.

In an unusual speech to the nation, Tuilaepa told the largely Christian state that there was a time for every season, and that God balances all things.

"The most poignant concerns that are distressing world leaders at the moment are the disastrous changing weather patterns that will allow the occurrences of cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes, flooding and other disasters, which all emanates from man abusing the garden that God appointed him to tend, such as the mindless cutting of trees excessively warming the environment resulting in disasters not often experienced before," he said.

He said deforestation near rivers and streams led to Samoa's disaster.

"Likewise the extreme deforestation near rivers and streams which, consequently, now results in the loss of lives and the destruction of homes nearby due to flash floodings."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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