December 18, 2012

Aussies hunker down as cyclone hits Fiji

From: The Australian 
December 17, 2012 8:18PM

Fiji Denarau
Cyclone Evan hits Fiji's Denarau Island, where Brendan O'Farrell captured the scenes outside his hotel room. Picture: Brendan O'Farrell Source: Supplied
THOUSANDS of people fled to evacuation centres in Fiji today as authorities warned to "prepare for the worst" from a powerful category four cyclone bearing down on the Pacific nation.
Power outages and flooding were reported on the main island of Viti Levu as Tropical Cyclone Evan approached, with all flights to and from Fiji cancelled as a precaution. Thousands of tourists took refuge inside hotels.
At least four people were killed when the cyclone slammed into neighbouring Samoa late last week and the Fiji government said it was taking no chances, shifting tourists and residents from low-lying areas.
The category four cyclone was earlier today about 85 kilometres off Nadi, site of the main international airport and where thousands of Australian tourists are stranded, and officials warned it could intensify as it approaches the coast, packing winds of 270 kilometres per hour.

It is expected to skirt Nadi, which was swamped by another cyclone that killed five people in April, and head southwest, generating 12 metre swells which could exacerbate flooding at high tide at 10pm local time.

“Members of the public are advised to prepare for the worst,” government spokeswoman Sharon Smith-Johns said, adding that 3,500 people were sheltering in evacuation centres and the number was expected to increase.

Among those sheltering from Evan are an estimated 2100 Australians known to be living or holidaying in Fiji.

Brisbane holidaymaker Erica Grey and her husband John were today waiting out the storm in the ballroom of the Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa, on Denarau Island near Nadi, with another 300 guests, about 70 per cent of whom are Australian.

She said guests and staff were calmly waiting for the storm to pass.

“Beds have been made with doonas and pillows, there is a generator working the lights and air-conditioning,” Ms Grey said.

“We all feel very safe but the winds outside are very strong.

“Everyone is happy people are sleeping, people playing cards and helping themselves to fruit juices.”

At Shangri-La's Fijian Resort and Spa, on Yanuca Island, general manager Michael Monks said guests were staying in their rooms and staff were in a central evacuation point.

“We're battened down at the moment,” Mr Monks said.

About 85 per cent of the guests are Australians.

He said it was windy and raining outside and non-essential staff had been allowed to go home to protect their own residences.

The popular Castaway and Plantation Island resports have been evacuated.

Fiji officials said storm warnings were in effect for the entire nation and all non-essential public servants had been told to stay at home but there were no reports of injuries or deaths.The cyclone is thought to be the strongest to threaten Fiji since Cyclone Kina, which killed 23 people and left thousands homeless in 1993.

Relief agencies were still assessing damage to remote islands in Samoa, where the New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre is overseeing a search for three boats carrying eight men that failed to return from fishing trips.

Rescue coordinator Geoff Lunt said there had been no sighting of the boats and debris from the cyclone was creating difficult search conditions.

“There is a lot of flotsam in the ocean which makes the visual search quite challenging but the aircraft will be coordinating their efforts to ensure the search area is thoroughly covered,” he said.

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman said the Australian High Commission was liaising with local authorities but had alerted the 2100 registered Australians by text message.

“Our key message to Australians is to continue to monitor local weather services and local media and follow the advice of local authorities,” she said in a statement.

“Australia has made an offer of assistance to the government of Fiji if required.”

Additional reporting: AFP

No comments: