Fleet safe amid devastation

BILL MOORE AND FAIRFAX
Last updated 13:00 18/12/2012

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A Nelson-run Fiji-based fishing fleet came through Cyclone Evan unscathed, but large ships went aground and there were trees down all around Suva, Solander Group director Paul Hufflett said this morning.

The cyclone tore across Fiji overnight, with the country's second largest city, Lautoka, described as a war zone.

Thousands of people huddled in evacuation centres with up to 200kmh winds sending houses and trees flying through the air.

Fiji authorities this morning issued urgent warnings that many of its rivers were flooding.

Mr Hufflett said Solander's 13 Fiji-flagged tuna longliners were all safe. Some were sheltering in harbours and the rest had continued to fish well north of Fiji, out of the path of the cyclone.

"Suva seems to be OK, but there's no power there," Mr Hufflett said.

"The greater concern is on the western side with Nadi and that whole area. Nobody can make contact with that side of the island at the moment. Cellphones are out and any decent form of communications's going to be difficult. I imagine the roads across there will be all out of action but we don't know."

He had been sent pictures this morning of a container ship and a bulk carrier that had gone aground in Suva Harbour, and others showing trees blown over and damage all around Suva.

Just before 9am he learned that traffic had been opened into the Suva Harbour area.

Mr Hufflett said Solander and many other businesses had their own generators because power cuts in Fiji were common, but the loss of power would cause communications problems.

Air New Zealand Holidays Nelson manager Eric Roeper said he only knew of a couple of people whose travel had been disrupted by the cyclone. Air New Zealand had cancelled a flight today but was indicating it would be flying to Fiji tomorrow.

The Fiji Ministry of Information said first light reports this morning were of extensive damage to roads, bridges, power lines, houses, and community halls. It said there was widespread damage to trees and infrastructure.

The Disaster Management Office in Suva said there were no reports of deaths and injuries.

The ministry said communications in the Nadi-Lautoka-Ba area were down as well as to Levuaka and Kadavu. In the worst hit town of Lautoka an unknown number of homes were destroyed and many had lost their roofs.

Meanwhile, the Poutasi area of Samoa, devastated in the 2009 tsunami, has been hit again by Cyclone Evan but details had not come through, a Nelson charity leader said today.

Samoan Tsunami Aid and Relief (Star) treasurer Jan Fa'avae said the roofs had been blown off the buildings in a resort owned by Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale, indicating the severity of the damage.

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Star was formed in Nelson after the tsunami and focused on helping to rebuild the village of Poutasi, a small close-knit community. Nine of the villagers lost their lives. The Nelson group held garage sales and other fundraising events and sent food, clothing, hospital equipment and building supplies in three containers.

Mrs Fa'avae said Star still had $13,000 in the bank. "It might be needed now."

New Zealand is likely to offer a multimillion-dollar assistance package to Samoa in the wake of Cyclone Evan, Prime Minister John Key told TV3's Firstline this morning. Fiji had also made a formal request for assistance overnight and the Government would be considering that request.

- The Nelson Mail

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