17 Jan 2003

Search in Fiji for 17 still missing after Cyclone Ami

4:36 pm on 17 January 2003

Volunteers and family member are helping Fiji police search for 17 people reported missing after Cyclone Ami struck the northern and eastern islands of the country this week.

In one case, nine members of an extended family are reported buried in a landslide at Namosi settlement near Labasa.

Radio FM-96 reports that police are having difficulty locating the relatives of three other people who have been found dead.

The confirmed death toll is eleven but the figure is expected to rise.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross says it has helped nearly 21-thousand cyclone victims on Vanua Levu and nearby islands.

It has distributed emergency kits containing medical supplies, clothing, water containers and cooking utensils.

The Labasa branch of the Red Cross has run out of local supplies but replenishments are due from Suva soon.

Food crops have suffered extensive damage and farmers on Taveuni Island are reporetd to be seeking urgent assistance from the government.

Many roads are still blocked with trees and debris while some sections were washed away during the flooding.

But people of some remote villages are reported to have cut their way out through blocked roads to Savusavu with reports of injuries and damage.

The New Zealand government has given just over 10-thousand US dollars to the Fiji emergency relief appeal launched in Suva.

The foreign minister, Phil Goff, says the initial contribution will be used for medical supplies and water purification equipment for Vanua Levu and surrounding islands.

Reports from Fiji say there was widespread looting in the towns of Labasa and Savusavu after they were hit by Cyclone Ami.

The Daily Post reports that looters also broke into two commercial banks at the height of the floods brought by the cyclone.

The mayor of Labasa, Charan Jeath Singh, says it was unfortunate that businesses were hit twice within hours - first by the cyclone and flooding and then by the looters.

More than a dozen Labasa shops were looted, with a major supermarket cleaned out within two hours.

Mr Singh says people were swimming everywhere with bags full of goods on floaters.

Police have sent another forty officers from Suva to restore order and recover stolen goods.