A tropical depression currently headed towards Samoa has strengthened into a cyclone, but weather forecasters say it's likely to veer towards Fiji in coming days.
Sharon Smith-Johns, Fiji's permanent secretary of information, tells Bruce Hill the authorities are getting ready if the cyclone does hit, and so should the public.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Sharon Smith-Johns, Fiji's permanent secretary of information
SMITH-JONES: It's currently moving away from Fiji and its heading towards Samoa. Now, the weather forecasters have told us that once it reaches a certain point, it's going to get then pushed back over towards Fiji and that's going to predominantly affect the east coast, the Venua Leva, Taveuni, Lau and the Lomai Viti group around that way. So not normally either you'll find cyclones, they're coming across Nadi area. This time it's coming down the coast towards the Suva side of it.
HILL: And how seriously is the Fiji government taking the threat from this weather system?
SMITH-JONES: Oh, seriously. We've been watching this since Sunday and we've been watching the weather patterns build. So it's all about preparation at the moment and we've got this meeting this afternoon and all the agencies will meet with them to discuss logistics, but this has already been started since Monday.
The Divisional Commissioners, they're all out making preparations as well, so everybody from a government and agency perspective are taking this quite seriously and are getting themselves prepared.
HILL: Well, that's the government. What are ordinary people in the area that might be affected being told to do?
SMITH-JONES: We've been putting out weather updates and bulletins across all tv radio and newspapers and we keep reiterating the fact that just start to take precautions, finding out where you're, your cyclone shutters, get them out from under the house, clear the area of rubbish, any trees or branches that are hanging down. Because the weather today is beautiful, so it's a great opportunity for everyone to get out in the yard and to start making these preparations and just get ready for it.
HILL: How well are people responding to this message?
SMITH-JONES: Look, when you've got sunshine, it's hard to see into the future, to understand that there's a cyclone coming, so we're pushing the message quite hard. It was on the front page of the local newspapers today and it'll continue to go out over the news. In Fiji, we are used to cyclones, so once we get the warning systems out there, people generally take note and start to make preparations.
HILL: Well, weather systems can be unpredictable. How predictable are cyclones at the moment with weather prediction technology at the state it is?
SMITH-JONES: Well, I'm not an expert in weather, so I take my lead from the weather team. They're watching this system develop and there are several, they feed into several different areas. All the indicators currently are showing that it's going to swing back and to affect Fiji or the east side of Fiji, but as we know Bruce, it's the weather and anything could happen, but I'm preparing that we will be hit by a cyclone and I think it's better to be prepared and nothing happens, than to be not prepared at all.
HILL: When a cyclone hits, obviously there's a lot of initial damage from the wind and storm surge on the coast and so forth, but often there are other things that come on later, like flooding. I remember the flooding in the western side of Viti Levu in March. Is flooding something that might happen as a result of this?
SMITH-JONES: Well, if you have a look at the system and the amount of rain that comes with cyclones, generally there is flooding that comes behind, depending how intense that rain is. Again, preparation and doing as much as we can, advising people in low lying areas and keeping an eye on the rivers along the east of Fiji. Again, all we can do is be prepared and at the moment, yeah, hoping that it's going to swing around, but it's maintaining its track towards Fiji.
HILL: And does the country have enough resources to cope with a cyclone if it's really as damaging as you feel it is or would you need any external help?
SMITH-JONES: Well, we had the floods, two lots of floods this year and , the positive thing here is the school is on break, so all schoolchildren are at home, so that's a big issue, making sure that children are safe. So therefore the evacuation centres are ready.
We've been through this twice this year, so by now, we've pretty much got it down pat into getting those resources together, getting the services out there and making sure that everyone is safe.
HILL: So basically, it's OK, because we're getting used to it by now?
SMITH-JONES: Well, it's not a really good thing to say, but we are I won't say experts in cyclones, but we do know what to do in a cyclone and the flood, the devastation. There's nothing you can do, the rains going to come, we can just try and mitigate it as much as possible and it's always the clean up afterwards that takes its toll on everybody, because it's a huge clean up after a cyclone.