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Fiji floodwaters kill 2, paralyse nation and leave tourists stranded

Fiji's Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama with other government ministers, including Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, inspecting a damaged bridge and road at Navo in Nadi. Photo: Minfo

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By David Robie in Nadi

“Never a dull moment – we make waiting fun,” says a Vodafone billboard promoting its latest products in Fiji’s Nadi international airport. “Power to you.”

But for hundreds of tourists and Fiji Islanders waiting today to get on board five cancelled flights to Australia, New Zealand and beyond, there was little fun.

People told stories of anguish over ruined tropical holidays of a lifetime, ripoffs in adversity and frustration.

Cancelled Air NZ flight

Flash floods force cancellation of Air NZ flight for second day running. Photo: David Robie/PMC

A large crowd gathered in the airport to forget the weather and watch the Tokyo rugby sevens competition but they were disappointed to see Samoa pip Fiji 24-21 in the quarterfinals.

Suffering again
After four days of torrential rain across the Western Division – “this is the top flooding I have seen in my lifetime,” said taxi driver Pradesh “Tambi” Kumar – Fiji Islanders are suffering.

Local newspaper, online and radio reports have cited at least two deaths and five people were reported missing as floodwaters continued to wreak havoc as well as grounding most international flights.

Air New Zealand cancelled scheduled Nadi flights at the weekend and the Fiji government asked airlines to stop bringing in any more visitors until the weather stabilised.

From Sigatoka to Rakiraki, emergency services were stretched to the limit as the government declared a state of emergency in the Western Division.

Evacuation centres
More than 91 evacuation centres have been set up and more than 8000 people are sheltering from the floods, rain and wind, the state-owned Fiji Broadcasting Television reported.

At a disaster management (DISMAC) meeting in Lautoka, Divisional Police Superintendent Jope Ralulu was reported by the Fiji Times as confirming the first victim as a woman from Lomolomo.

The five missing people were reportedly in a vehicle swept away by raging floodwaters along the Nadi backroad, while trying to bypass the flooded tourism town.

Heavy rain since Wednesday night has turned many towns and communities into lakes as fast rising floodwaters submerged homes, swept away cars and forced families to scramble onto rooftops.

Local radio today carried constant weather and flood updates as main western towns such as Nadi, Ba, Tavua and Rakiraki remained still under water.

In some suburbs around Nadi, soldiers and National Fire Authority servicemen were called in to help police in rescue attempts.

A large area in Namaka looked like a lake and floodwaters have swept over the ground floor of the Colonial Plaza shopping centre.

No newspapers
Neither of the two daily newspapers, Fiji Sun and Fiji Times, could be delivered to the Western Division. One sales assistant at Nadi airport said: “We haven’t been able to get the papers for four days now.”

Both the Sun and the Times carried big disaster wrap-around editions. “Flood shock,” said the Sun with a front page picture of Namaka residents using a cabin cruiser to ferry people around as cars lay submerged.

“The ‘worst’,” said the Fiji Times in a banner headline. “Rain, rising floodwaters wreak havoc.”

The National Weather Forecasting Centre has warned that weather conditions were expected to worsen.

“A natural disaster is beyond everyone’s control. So it’s better that we help each other out in every way and we have to prepare for the worst,” Permanent Secretary for Disaster Management Lieutenant-Colonel Inia Seruiratu said.

“People living in low-lying areas are advised to move to higher ground as we expect more heavy rainfall.”

Dr David Robie is director of the Pacific Media Centre and among travellers stranded at Nadi International Airport.

Stranded tourists in Fiji

Stranded tourists await a cancelled Air NZ flight at Nadi International Airport. Photo: David Robie / PMC

Nadi flooding

Colonial Plaza shopping centre in Namaka, near Nadi, covered by floodwaters. Photo: David Robie / PMC