Fiji's interim PM declares state of disaster

Fiji's interim PM declares state of disaster

Fiji's interim PM declares state of disaster

Updated 19 December 2012, 22:50 AEDT

Fiji's interim prime minister has declared a state of disaster after touring regions affected by Cyclone Evan.

Fiji's interim prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, has declared a state of disaster after touring regions affected by Cyclone Evan.

The cyclone is the biggest to sweep past the island nation in 20 years, packing destructive 270 kilometre per hour winds and causing major flooding.

The state of disaster will stay in effect for 15 days and allows authorities to speed up recovery work.

Power has been cut to thousands of people and will be returned to essential services first.

The United Nation's Regional Disaster Response Adviser for the Pacific, Peter Muller, has told Radio Australia this will be a priority.

"Our priority would be to get power up and running which would ease a lot of the water needs as well," he says.

"And [we need to] make sure that people that are in evacuation centres get those basic relief like water, food and shelter where there's damage to their houses."

An estimated 13,000 people remain in emergency shelters across the island.

Latest OCHA situation report
  1. Evacuation centres in Fiji are currently hosting 13,976 people. 
  2. Initial assessments by Fiji Red Cross Society indicate that as many as 600 house have been severely damaged in Lautoka alone. 
  3. Power has been restored to 90 percent of the Central and Western Divisions of Fiji. 
  4. Ministry of Police in Samoa has confirmed that the number of casualties has risen to five with 12 people still missing. 
  5. 4,858 people remain in evacuation centres in Samoa. 

Running water is being gradually restored while Nadi airport has reopened with the first flight out at 2pm yesterday.

Some parts of Fiji recorded up to 200mm of rain in a 24-hour period as the category four storm passed to the north-western side of the main Fijian islands of Vanua Levu and Viti Levu.

There has been widespread flooding, homes have been destroyed and some bridges and roads were damaged.

The government is warning that with many bridges underwater and rivers continuing to rise, people in low lying areas should head to evacuation centres.

But Fijian authorities say there have been no reported casualties, unlike in neighbouring Samoa, where it killed at least four people late last week and left another 10 missing.

"The damage seems to be (to) local houses but there wasn't any great pockets of massive destruction anywhere," government spokeswoman Sharon Smith-Johns told Radio Australia.

Suva-based meteorologist, Neville Koop, said many people were expected to remain at evacuation centres over the coming days.

"A lot of the evacuation centres were open very early in the north of the country and in the west, and in the central division," he said.

"The experiences of Cyclone Evan over Samoa has given people sort of a very vivid picture of what the potential was of damage for this system.

"So it looks as though many people took advantage of that opportunity to seek shelter early."

Delas Whippy lost everything when a tree smashed into his home.

"We were hiding here, myself and my wife, we were in here when the tree fell on it and the top just burst through," he said.

Flights in and out of Fiji resumed on Tuesday.

Fijian carrier Air Pacific said the majority of its flights had been rescheduled on a delayed basis with business expected to be back to usual by Thursday.

It was furious, absolutely furious, for about five or six hours it was blowing ferociously.

We were staying bunkered down in an evacuation centre in Nadi, with about 450 locals who'd moved out of their homes because they were too afraid that they wouldn't withstand the force of the wind or the rain that might flood them out of there.

So it was blowing very, very loudly, people were fairly cheerful, although some people actually ventured out into the cyclone because they were so worried about their homes.

There was bits of debris flying around everywhere, so it was quite dangerous.

ABC reporter Matt Wordsworth

During the height of the cyclone, a curfew was issued across Fiji as a precaution.

The interim government became worried that businesses and homes could be targetted by looters because so many people were in evacuation centres.

But some locals took the steps of guarding their own places, sitting there in the storm to protect them from anybody who might try and take advantage of the situation.

Australia pledges aid

Australia has pledged an initial $1 million each to Fiji and Samoa in emergency assistance and relief supplies for communities devastated by Cyclone Evan.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr says two disaster relief experts from AusAID's Rapid Response Team are travelling today to Suva to support damage assessment and respond to urgent relief needs.

"The Australian Civilian Corps is also on standby for early deployment," he said in a statement.

"To help our Pacific neighbours, Australia is supporting damage assessments and we will provide logistics support to deliver relief items such as tarpaulins, water purification tablets and shelter.

"This support includes 1,500 family kits for the people of Fiji and will assist 4,000 family households in Samoa."

Senator Carr says an additional DFAT officer will also be dispatched to Suva to provide consular assistance to Australians.

Canberra will consider further assistance in both Samoa and Fiji following talks with relevant authorities and when more information came to light about the extent of the damage.