Cyclone Evan causes flooding in Fiji
MICHAEL FIELD, PAUL EASTON AND MICHAEL DALY
A state of natural disaster has been declared in the Northern and Western divisions of Fiji.
Roofs were ripped from homes and churches, roads flooded and thousands forced to evacuate their homes when the storm battered the Pacific Island nation yesterday. Strong seas near the capital, Suva, pulled two container ships onto a reef. Authorities say they hope to refloat them.
Thousands of people huddled in evacuation centres overnight as winds sent houses and trees flying through the air. Sky News reported a hospital lost its roof and patients had to be evacuated.
The Fiji Ministry of Information said reports pointed to extensive damage to roads, bridges, power lines, houses and community halls. There were no reports of deaths and injuries.
Most tourist resorts sustained only minor damage, but power and communications remain down in parts of the country.
The state of natural disater will remain in effect for 15 days, as the country cleans up the after-effects of Cyclone Evan.
National Disaster Management Office director Manasa Tagicakibau said this would allow authorities and stakeholders to speed up rehabilitation works, which began today, FijiLive reported.
Cyclone Evan headed out to sea early today and has been downgraded to a category three storm.
However, flooding remains a threat for thousands of people.
All people living in the Rewa River delta, east of Suva, were told to move to high ground before it gets dark, as heavy rains from the storm cause the river to burst its banks.
The delta includes the large town of Nausori and an airport.
The Fiji Meteorology Office earlier issued a flood warning for rivers including the Wainimala, Wainibuka, Waidina, Rewa, and the low lying areas of Nausori and Rewa Delta.
NADI AIRPORT REOPENS
Flights to the international airport at Nadi have resumed.
Air New Zealand flights from Auckland to Nadi are departing as scheduled, with two flights expected to land there late today.
However, today's flights from Nadi to Auckland on Air Pacific and Qantas have both been cancelled. Two Air New Zealand flights from Nadi to Auckland today have been rescheduled.
In Samoa, flights bound for Apia from Auckland are back on schedule for Air New Zealand, with an extra service operating on Sunday for extra capacity.
Extra flights will fly into Samoa's capital, and the national carrier also relaxed baggage allowances. The altered rules allow adult and child passengers booked to travel to Apia up to Sunday December 30 to take one extra piece of luggage with them.
Because the flights leaving from Auckland will have cargo space filled with food and welfare items, passengers travelling this week would not be able to fly with their extra baggage - though it could follow on a different flight free of charge.
HORROR NIGHT AS STORM HIT
One New Zealander has described the harrowing experience of sheltering in Nadi as the cyclone battered the country overnight.
"Our room was pretty much awash with all the water that was coming in, there were leaks in the ceiling as well as water coming in the door, so we were dealing with that as well as the wind," Fairfax journalist Marc Hinton said.
"But it appears as though the worst has past, there are still fairly strong winds here - but nowhere near the intensity that it was through the night.
"Our ceiling is starting to cave in so there is obviously a lot of water that got into the buildings, which was to be expected with the strength of the winds and bits of roofs being torn off."
Hinton's family had not left their room since yesterday. They only had lights working overnight.
"We literally haven't seen anyone because everyone was hunkered down, the winds were so strong last night you couldn't even open your doors, it was over 200kmh."
Fiji's second largest city, Lautoka, was described last night as a war zone. An unknown number of homes were destroyed and many had lost their roofs. Running water was also out in Nadi.
This morning, a number of main highways through Fiji were in lock down and the entire Western Division from Korolevu to Rakiraki was without power.
Rakiraki was almost completely under water for much of the night.
NZ TO STEP UP AID
New Zealand has contributed close to $1 million to help Samoa and Fiji in the aftermath of Evan and further funding is expected.
Fiji made a formal request for assistance overnight and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said New Zealand was happy to help.
It has offered an initial $50,000 to respond to specific requests from Fiji. Tarpaulins, water containers, generators and chainsaw packs were also on the way to Fiji on commercial flights.
A further contribution of $170,000 has been made to the Fiji Red Cross.
"We are also looking at further funding for New Zealand-based non-government organisations that have supplies pre-positioned in Fiji," McCully said.
New Zealand has also offered Samoa a total of $600,000 in assistance, bringing the total assistance package for both countries to $870,000.
Five additional New Zealand Red Cross workers would travel to Samoa to support local efforts.
SAMOA'S SEARCH FOR MISSING
Cyclone Evan ravaged Samoa late last week, leaving at least four dead, up to 3000 homeless, and flattened buildings in the capital Apia.
A search for 10 fishermen who went missing off the country during the cyclone has been called off.
Maritime New Zealand said three days of searching involving a Royal New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion and a French Marine Nationale Guardian aircraft covered around 5,000 square kilometres but failed to find any sign of the men.
The upturned boat was believed to be one of the missing boats, but had yet to be formally identified.