News24

Cyclone feared in flood-ravaged Fij

2012-04-02 14:01

Nadi - Fiji struggled to cope on Monday with devastating floods that have brought the country to a standstill with warnings that it could get worse as an incoming storm threatens to become a cyclone.

A state of emergency was declared in the South Pacific nation on Sunday as flash floods claimed at least three lives and forced 8 000 people to seek refuge in evacuation centres.

Fiji has "had a bashing", permanent secretary of information Sharon Smith Johns said, with water and power supplies cut in most areas and many roads closed.

"Regardless of whether we get a cyclone or not, we could get hit with more rain and more flooding," she told Radio Australia.

Meteorologists have warned a tropical depression is forming which could turn into a cyclone, and Nadi Weather Office director Alipate Waqaicelua issued a fresh heavy rain warning.

"We are going to get further rain, more heavy rain from this system," he said.

Tourism affected

As the weather brought the island nation to a halt, cutting road access and isolating communities, holiday resorts struggled to cope with the Fiji government asking airlines not to fly in passengers until further notice.

International flights were arriving empty to take stranded visitors out of a country heavily reliant on its tourist industry.

"This is very bad for Fiji, it will take a long time to fix up and get the tourists back," taxi driver Mohammad Yakub said as he surveyed the devastation.

He said his family was surviving on tinned food as all the crops in his small plot of land had been destroyed and his local market was unlikely to reopen for weeks.

"I don't know what people will eat. They will have to bring food in soon," he said.

Although Fiji has not called for international assistance, Australia and New Zealand said they were ready to help.

The regional powers have had a fractured relationship with Fiji since naval officer Voreque Bainimarama seized control in a 2006 military coup.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said they would work with non-government agencies rather than Bainimarama's regime.

"Typically what we've done in the past is give the resources to a non-government organisation on the ground we trust, say the Red Cross, rather than give it to the government to administer," he told Radio Live.

"Yes, we disagree with the formation of that government through force but we have a long history with Fiji, we love their people and we are going to support them."

When some roads reopened in a respite from the rain on Monday morning, fleets of minibuses headed out to pick up tourists stranded at resorts which were reported to be running low on food supplies.

About 2 000 Australian and New Zealand holidaymakers are estimated to be waiting for flights out.