| Cyclone pounds Fiji
| Monday, March 15, 2010
|LATEST: As Fiji battens down for one of its worst storms in years, a storm that has already claimed one life, local Neil Harrison says he can do little other than watch the huge swell in what is usually a calm and protected bay.
Mr Harrison is on Koro Island to the east of the main island of Viti Levu and said conditions after Cyclone Tomas struck in the last 24 hours were "shocking".
The small island has about 14 villages but Mr Harrison, a Scotsman who has lived there for four years, said because of the high winds and downed trees, he could not get out to check on his neighbours.
Wind gusts were reaching about 120km and he was thankful he had left his 14 metre, two-masted ketch in a protected harbour Savusavu on Vanua Levu.
"It is protected anchorage but it took a pretty big hit and all communications are down. I have just heard on the radio all of Savusavu is cut off. It is another thing to worry about."
Mr Harrison said the bay he was on was very protected unless there was a westerly wind.
"Right now I am looking at probably two metre waves coming in the bay."
He said he was unable to check on his neighbours.
"We can't go anywhere. There are a lot of trees down. I have tried to reach a couple of villages but we can't get hold of anyone."
Mr Harrison said the eye of the storm was about 150km from Koro Island.
"God knows what it is like in the middle. If we are 150km from this thing and we are copping what we are getting I really don't know what it is like under the eye. They will be getting twice this."
He said Fiji had had plenty of warning about the cyclone.
"We have been watching it for about eight days building up," he said.
Fiji's military government has extended an overnight curfew through to 5pm today as Hurricane Tomas continues to rage over the islands.
Military spokesman Neumi Leweni said the curfew covers most of the country except the tourist area in the west which is not feeling the impact of the cyclone.
Police reported Tamarisi Tabua, 31, was swept away and killed in a sea surge as she was taking part in a cultural ceremony with her family at Labasa, on the small island of Vanua Levu.
Waves hit her sisters Mereula and Alanieta Evans, nephew Mesake, 10, and niece Fulori, four, and swept them into the bay, the Fiji Times said.
Alanieta said they would have died if it had not been for her sister. "When she got near to me, she threw my daughter to me then the sea swallowed her."
Hundreds of Kiwis were among those hunkering down in hotels or evacuation shelters as the storm smashed ashore.
There are reports that around 10,000 people are now packed into shelters on the islands. All schools and government departments are closed.
Widespread damage has been reported on many of the outer islands but the main island of Viti Levu has so far escaped relatively unscathed.
More heavy seas and high winds were expected in the next 24 hours.
Compounding the weather problems in the region is Tropical Cyclone Ului, which has pounded the Solomon Islands leaving a trail of devastation as winds reached 260kmh, before being downgraded from a maximum class five hurricane.
Dean Innes, a New Zealand contractor who was installing electricity sub stations in Fiji, said he had moved to a hotel near Suva but conditions were not bad.
"It really like a bad winter's day in New Zealand.
"It is coming up over the stone wall, the waves, but it is nothing really."
In Lami Bay where the hotel was it was gusty and squally but there was little damage, although a boat had caught a rope around its propeller and had hit a restaurant on the waterfront.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) has advised New Zealanders in Fiji and the Solomon Islands to follow instructions issued by the local authorities, monitor local media reports and register their details at www.safetravel.govt.nz.
As flights in and out of Fiji had been suspended due to the cyclone, travellers with immediate plans to travel to Fiji should check with their airline or travel agent, an Mfat spokesperson said.
There were about 480 New Zealanders registered with the ministry as being in Fiji and around 60 registered as being in Solomon Islands.
This morning Tomas was 240km east northeast of Suva, and was now passing over the low-lying Lau group.
Due to the effects of the storm, and problems with communications there were no official damage assessments yet from affected areas.
New Zealand had received no request for assistance, but stood ready to help the people of Fiji if required, the spokesperson said.
There have been no reports of injuries from Ului, but there had been some damage to buildings.
Fiji Tropical Cyclone Centre senior forecaster Matt Boterhoven told Radio New Zealand the cyclone was expected to leave the islands and head to the open ocean in about 24 hours.
It could be up to 36 hours before sea swells calmed down, he said.
"That's going to be a real problem for the next day and a half."
Aid might not be able to reach some damaged islands until Thursday, he said.
The director of Fiji's disaster management centre, Pajiliai Dobui, said communication has been lost on islands including Taveuni and the Lau group, where the storm was headed.
Mr Doubi said officials would not know what damage had been caused there until Wednesday.
|posted by Moderator Londen time 10:44 PM