Fiji on high alert for Cyclone Evan | Asia Pacific

Fiji on high alert for Cyclone Evan

Fiji on high alert for Cyclone Evan

Updated 14 December 2012, 22:16 AEDT

The tropical cyclone that has hit Samoa hard, is expected to intensify over the weekend, as it moves towards Fiji.

At present, the storm's being categorised at level four, the second highest.

It's expected to make landfall late Sunday in Fiji.

Sharon Smith-Johns, permanent secretary of Information for Fiji's interim government, outlined the situation to Bruce Hill.

Interviewer: Bruce Hill

Speaker: Sharon Smith-Johns, Permanent Secretary of Information for Fiji's interim government

SMITH-JONES: Unfortunately, it's a very nice sunny afternoon and there is no indication whatsoever of bad weather, a beautiful day in Suva.

HILL: But that's going to change, isn't it?

SMITH-JONES: It's all going to change. Fiji's now on high alert. We know that the cyclone is moving towards the Fiji group, we know that it's going to be upgraded to a Category 4 Cyclone, with winds gusting probably 200 kilometres an hour, we're very much just waiting for the arrival.

HILL: A Category 4 storm, that's only one degree below the worst storm there's ever been. Is Fiji able to cope with a storm of that intensity?

SMITH-JONES: Look, we have had, we've had Cyclone Kina, that came through some years ago, which was very similar to this, with destructive winds. We just have to wait and see. We're hoping that it doesn't hit Category 4, but there's also talk that it could go up to Category 5. We just have to watch the weather in the next 12 to 24 hours.

HILL: If that happened, I mean a Category 5, we're talking about Cyclone Tracey in Darwin in 1975 level of disruption?

SMITH-JONES: Yes, it will be quite destructive. I mean we've seen what's happened in Samoa and all we can do is be prepared here. We're lucky we've had a week's notice of this. So all the agencies have been deployed, emergency services are on stand by and evacuation centres are open, rations have gone out. Now it's just a matter of continuing to clean up our own backyard and putting cyclone shutters up and waiting.

HILL: Now, how prepared are people in Fiji, because as you say, you've had about a week to get ready for this. Are people getting the message?

SMITH-JONES: I think finally they've got the message. After today, it's been the talk of the town and it's constantly on the news. People are responding now. I know that the line up at the gas stations to fill up with petrol, the supermarkets water etc. So it's good to see people, they are actually listening to the weather warnings.

HILL: If this storm is as devastating in Fiji as it's been in Samoa and possibly even worse. There could be some serious long term economic ramifications for Fiji, because all the fruit trees come down, saltwater inundation from the storm surge. I mean food security in the immediate aftermath could easily be a serious problem, couldn't it?

SMITH-JONES: It could be a serious problem. Look, we've already spoken to the agriculture sector and the farmers and they've had warnings to actually thinking about food security, securing livestock and actually taking crops out of the ground that were ready. So because we've had such a quite a few days of warning, we are much better prepared than we normally would be when you've got 24 or 48 hours notice. We just have to wait and see Bruce, but yes certainly, all of that is a consideration and it's going to be an all hands on deck after the clean up, so if it hits the way we think it's going to hit, it'll be a massive clean up.

HILL: Is it the clean up that Fiji can handle by itself or would you want some assistance from your aid partners?

SMITH-JONES: Oh, I think we have to look at that, we have to access it and we'll have that conversation after the storms passed. We know in the past, that there's been aid and all countries have been very generous in helping us. So let's access that after the fact.

HILL: Is anyone actually moving away to higher ground or is anyone actually changing where they live, if they live in low lying areas, are people actually taking it that

seriously yet or are they still just waiting to see what's going to happen?

SMITH-JONES: No, there are people who've already taken precautions. They know that they live in flood prone areas and they're moving to higher ground or moving in with relatives. So there is quite a lot of movement around, especially today and around in the rural areas.

I haven't toured around the country, but I do know from the feedback that I'm getting that people are moving ahead of time and not waiting for this to happen.

HILL: Now bearing in mind, that meteorology is not an exact science and we can't say exactly what this cyclone's going to do. Do we have any indication of any particular geographic areas in Fiji which are going to be worse affected than others?

SMITH-JONES: We know that the north is going to be the worst affected, that's up on Vanua Levu, then through the islands around there.

Currently, on a current path, it's coming straight over the top of Fiji, but I think Suva hasn't been hit by a cyclone for quite sometime. It's going to hit Suva and I don't think that for us here, we always think, oh well, we're OK, we're out, we're not going to get hit. But I think Suva this time is going to get hit and that could be a bit of a wake up call for a lot of people.

HILL: It must be a dreadful feeling sitting there on a lovely day waiting for a horrible disaster to strike?

SMITH-JONES: It actually is quite an unreal feeling and my staff, we're sitting here and it is a beautiful day and you've got to get your head around the fact that in three days time, we are going to wake up to who knows what. So yeah, it is quite difficult, it is quite difficult.

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Bruce Hill

Bruce Hill

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Bruce is one of the Pacific’s most experienced journalists with nearly 20 years covering the region and has won several international awards.

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