April 03, 2012

Deadly Fiji floods trap 2000 Aussies in holiday chaos

BY: BY ALISON MCMEEKIN From: The Daily Telegraph April 03, 2012 7:19AM

HUNDREDS of Australian travellers stranded in flooded Fiji have returned home.

As a tropical depression was forming into a possible cyclone off the coast of the Pacific Island nation, threatening to cause yet more devastation, a state of natural disaster was declared by the Fijian interim government.

Fiji is struggling to cope with the floods that have brought the country to a standstill, claiming four lives and forcing about 8000 people to seek refuge in evacuation centres.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Jetstar, Virgin and Air Pacific flights had evacuated people to Australia late last night.

"Empty aircraft were landing in Nadi yesterday, as weather permitted, to transport passengers back to Australia and elsewhere," Mr Carr said in a statement.

He said more services would fly today.

"Improved road access to Nadi airport has made it possible for many Australians to return home," Mr Carr said.

He said those holidaying on resorts on outer islands are still facing some difficulties in returning to the main island and to Nadi airport.

Consular officials are monitoring the situation, he said.

No Australians are believed to have been killed or injured.

Among those who managed to return home last night were western Sydney couple Kellie and Kevin Lyons, who had travelled to Fiji with their daughter Natasha to celebrate their 10-year wedding anniversary.

The Erskine Park family, who were staying at a resort at Denarau, said management had announced food supplies would have to be rationed.

"Supplies were starting to get low," Mrs Lyons said. "When we were driving back to the airport it was pretty sad for the locals.

"Roads were ripped away, people piled up for service stations, there was 1km-long line for shopping centres and there was a school under water.

"The whole place was in lockdown - all we could do was play cards and watch movies. But at least we were together."

Alissa Hunter, from Concord West, said her family were forced to queue for hours to be evacuated by helicopter.

Mrs Hunter, who was travelling with her husband, mother-in-law, three-year-old daughter Charlotte and 10-month-old son Cooper, described it as "nerve-wracking".

"We queued up for five hours for a helicopter," Ms Hunter said.

"We missed out so we stayed two nights and were choppered out first thing this morning (Monday)."

Other Australians stranded at holiday resorts and Fiji's main airport - as well as their worried families - vented their frustration on Twitter and Facebook.

"I am advised that road access to Nadi airport has improved and high commission staff are at the airport to assist travellers," Mr Carr said.

Australia is working closely with Fijian organisations to assist assessments of damage and needs for emergency support in affected communities, including funding aerial surveys of flooded areas.

Mr Carr said Australia and Fiji had strong ties and at a time of crisis he had advised Fiji's interim Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola that the Australian government would provide assistance of up to $1 million to support Fiji's disaster response.

The money will buy medical and other supplies such as tarpaulins, water purification tablets and blankets. Three Australian officials are now stationed at Nadi airport to assist Australians.

Australians in need of consular help can call DFAT's crisis centre on +61 2 6261 3305.

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