25 Jul 2013

Fiji's new flood warning and evacuation plan spelled out

4:40 pm on 25 July 2013

The chairman of the Nadi Basin Catchment Committee says the new flood warning plan for Nadi does everything possible to ensure there will be no future loss of life.

Bryan Watson says his committee began working after the devastating 2009 floods, but there were still problems last year in getting warnings to residents when floods hit in January and March.

He says the new system features mobile phone messages, sirens and speaker systems.

Bryan Watson spoke to Alex Perrottet in Nadi.

BRYAN WATSON: The warnings before were somewhat delayed because the technicalities of what was transpiring were not clearly put out to the public. Now with the floodgates just in with the extra six gauges on the Nadi River, their telemetry is by digicel phone, it's an instant telemetry thereby the Weather Department, Meteorology, and Water Authority, which are now combined in regards to hydrology, they then have the capacity to read the situation and to how long before major flooding hits the rural area of Nadi. In the last disaster we had no loss of life which was a good thing and even though not all of these systems were up and running at the time.

Alex Perrottet: That was in March last year?

BW: March last year but the thing was that the system then did not have the sophistication of the modelling that was needed. In other words it transpired from 10 o'clock at night till five in the morning so therefore it is now far more sophisticated.

AP: In terms of the levels, what gets triggered?

BW: There's about possibly the three main stages; there is the actual flow of water coming down the volume of the river, it will reach a high level under the bridge here in Nadi which means it won't break the banks; then it comes to within a metre of breaking the banks, the warnings will go out. And also too the warnings will go out with the Meteorology Department aware of the potential amount of water coming down the valley. So they will be able to say 'this is a major flood and it's going to happen or the rain has stopped in the upper catchment and it's going to flood but I don't think it will be that dangerous' so it will give them a greater scope of modelling and warning in regards to it.

AP: And then the sirens?

BW: The sirens are activated by three very responsible people who are involved in the disaster planning. Again the level of the sirens is once it's that one metre below the bridge and about to break the banks, there will be a warning siren. Then there's a second stage siren which means that there's going to be a major flood, and the third siren is to say there is a clearance, there's no more flood coming.

AP: So the third siren is it's safe to return if you've already left?

BW: Yeah, but also too there's an audible speaker giving the messages in Fijian, Hindustani and English. All three languages are used on the speaker systems.