Evacuations as Cyclone Evan hits Fiji

MICHAEL FIELD, BEN HEATHER AND STACEY KIRK
Last updated 13:16 17/12/2012

Cyclone Evan hits Fiji

Samoa, cyclone Evan
EIRA MATAESE Zoom
Devastation in Samoa.

Cyclone leaves Samoans homeless

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Fiji's Ministry of Information is warning that Cyclone Evan is now moving close to the main island of Viti Levu, and is calling for people in numerous centres to move quickly to safer areas.

Cyclone Evan, a category four storm on a five point scale, has been pounding areas of Fiji with high winds and rain, after devastating swaths of Samoa.

Authorities have urged people in the international airport town of Nadi, which is low-lying and has been severely flooded twice this year, to make for higher ground.

The appeal has also gone out to residents of Ba, Tavua, Rakiraki, Yasawa, Lautoka, Coral Coast, Korolevu, Beqa and Kadavu "to move to safer areas or nearby evacuation centres before they face the full brunt of Tropical Cyclone Evan".

In the northern part of Fiji there are 37 evacuation centres holding 3522 people.

The ministry says they are expecting heavy rainfall with flooding in low-lying areas of Navua, Rewa Delta, Nausori and other flood-prone areas.

POWER CUT AS STORM INTENSIFIES

The Fiji Electricity Authority has cut all power on the island, including to the capital Suva.

Wellington lawyer Janet Mason, who is in her Lautoka home, says the cyclone suddenly became very intense late this morning.

"It is extremely windy, and I can see nobody out in it," she said.

"I doubt if you could stand up in it anyway."

She said they could see trees coming down around them and the "howling wind" was tearing at their roof of their house.

"It has suddenly gone very dark."

This morning Fiji authorities issued urgent appeals for people near the coast to get to safety quickly, including in Nadi, home to the international airport.

They have also called for people to move back from the Coral Coast which is home to dozens of international hotels, resorts and guest houses.

The cyclone's journey over Fiji was expected to last into tonight and there are fears of very large sea swells with high tide due at 10pm.

Fiji's old capital Levuka was being  pounded just after midday, while in the north Rakiraki has been cut off by heavy rain.

The bulk of the rain has yet to hit the Fiji highlands but when it does there are fears the major rivers would flood heavily.

FLIGHTS CANCELLED

All flights into and within Fiji were grounded this morning. Air New Zealand said today's flights to Nadi have been delayed until tomorrow.

A spokeswoman said NZ752, which would normally depart Auckland at 10.15am and then return to Auckland as NZ753, would leave a day later.  

The rescheduled departure time for NZ752 is now 12.30pm tomorrow. The regular scheduled Tuesday flight to Nadi (NZ52) will still operate at its regular departure time of 06.50am.

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Fijian airline Pacific Sun had put a halt to all flights between Suva and Nadi to Labasa, Taveuni, Savusavu and Kadavu.

The government had imposed travel restrictions on a number of places in the Northern Division.

Commissioner Northern Lieutenant Colonel Ilai Moceica told the Fijian Times it was "necessary to save lives".

To the northwest, power was out and a lockdown in force for the town of Labasa. Police had stepped up their presence in the town, which was being hit by high winds.

 Flash flooding has threatened a number of homes.

A spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said no decisions had yet been made on what support New Zealand may offer Fiji. "It's really a case of waiting to see what happens," she said.

'GHOST TOWN'

Fairfax reporter Marc Hinton, who is in Fiji, said the Hilton Resort on Denerau had all but shut down, and it was a "waiting game" to see what happened.

"The wind is just starting to really cut, and it is only just starting to rain lightly.

"At the hotel they got breakfast over done with and now the restaurant's been in lock down since 9am."

Hinton said there were "a few nervous looking people at breakfast this morning", and the reception area had closed down and relocated to another part of the hotel.

He said Nadi was a "ghost town", with many of the shops closed and windows boarded up.

"It's a bit of a weird feeling, because you don't necessarily keep up to date with the weather and news when you're on holiday, you generally know what it's like as it's happening around you.

"Now we're just waiting. There was certainly an ambivalence among the guests on Saturday, but as the hotel began to inform people the mood has definitely changed since then."

Hinton said the cyclone was expected to hit their area this morning, but that had since been updated and they were expecting it to peak about 6pm.

KIWI STUDENTS STRANDED

Christchurch pupils were hunkering down in a Fiji hotel waiting for Evan to hit.

Ten Middleton Grange pupils were in Fiji completing mission work when the cyclone warning came.

Three pupils managed to catch the last flight back to New Zealand yesterday, but seven had to stay overnight in Fiji with school staff as the flights were overbooked. The year 13 pupils range in age from 17 to 18-years-old.

The seven remaining pupils and three staff were in good spirits, said school principal Richard Vanderpyl. Vanderpyl's daughter, Lucie, was there.

"They are safely in a hotel near the airport. We wanted their accommodation to be as secure as possible, so we chose a place recommended by the New Zealand high commission," he said.

FIJIAN FEARS

New Zealand Fijians spent a troubled night praying for their loved ones as the deadly cyclone bore down.

Evan last week destroyed much of Samoa's capital Apia and left a death toll of at least four with a further eight people missing.

Yesterday it transformed from a category 3 cyclone to a 4, on a 5-point scale, and powered across two small French islands with a total population of 15,000.

Weather forecasters were now predicting that a reduced Evan may hit New Zealand's Northland and Auckland area towards the end of the week.

Wellingtonian Prabodh Mishra, president of the New Zealand Fiji Indian Association, said he was worried about his family back home.

Last night he was struggling to contact his cousins living on the western coast of Viti Levu, Fiji's main island.

"They may have already gone into the hills. They are close to a river, which can be quite dangerous," he said. "Anything of this nature affects us a lot."

Once the extent of the destruction was known, the association would start gathering donations, including money and food, he said.

Vinod Kumar said he was praying the storm would pass them by.

Savenaca Daugunu, of the Wellington Fijian Community, said everyone was thinking about the cyclone.

His son, Saimoni, is holidaying in Samoa and was forced to hole up in his hotel as the island was battered by Evan.

HELPING OUT

The New Zealand Government has sent a P-3 Orion aircraft to undertake an aerial assessment in Samoa.

It has also made $50,000 available for a ground response. The United States has offered US$50,000 in aid. Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has also offered humanitarian assistance to Samoa.

The Red Cross is accepting donations for victims of Cyclone Evan through the Pacific Disaster Response Fund. They have also sent a senior operations manager to Samoa to assess the need for aid.

Rotary NZ's World Community Service is distributing emergency kits in Samoa and has supplies on standby in Fiji. Rotary has also set up a fund for Samoa and is accepting donations.

STORM HEADS FOR NZ

The cyclone is headed south-westward, which means it could be over the top of New Zealand in five days, said Metservice's Peter Kreft.

However, he said it was too early to tell whether it would stay on that track.

Analysts were examining the weather in the ocean surrounding New Zealand to see if it could change the cyclone's course.

Kreft said as the cyclone moved away from Fiji, it would lose some of its tropical cyclone character.

PATH OF EVAN

- © Fairfax NZ News

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