18 Dec 2016

Heavy rains bring flooding, landslides to Fiji

10:46 am on 18 December 2016

Fiji, a country still reeling from a powerful cyclone ten months ago, was hit by flooding and landslides on Saturday after a strong tropical depression slowly skirted past the western coast.

Flooding in Fiji

Flooding in Fiji Photo: FijiVillage

The system -- called TD04F -- continued to weaken on Saturday as it moved across open ocean to the southwest at about 9km/h. Its chances of developing into a tropical cyclone, which had been feared earlier this week, continued to diminish, the Fiji Meteorological Service said.

The system is still about 330 km to the west of Viti Levu and moving very slowly between Vanuatu and Fiji.

A heavy rain warning is still in force for Vanua Levu, Taveuni, Lau and the Lomaiviti group.

Until Saturday, parts of the western and central divisions had about 200 millimetres of rain fall in a 48-hour period.

"Overnight there has been very heavy rain," said Ravind Kumar, the director of the Fiji Meteorological Service. "We expect more rain to come today and slowly the heavy rain to ease to occasional rain from tomorrow." A heavy rain and strong wind warning remained in place for the entire country, he said.

Mr Kumar said about 40 evacuation centres were opened across the country on Friday and about 500 people had heeded warnings to seek shelter from low-lying areas.

Family affected by Fiji flooding

Family affected by Fiji flooding Photo: FijiVillage

On Saturday, there were widespread reports of flooding and landslides, although it remained unclear just how many people were affected and if there was any damage to property.

Rakiraki, a town of about 3,000 in the north of the main island, Viti Levu, was closed on Saturday afternoon, the government said. Residents in low-lying areas were being urged to evacuate while it was still daylight.

"At 4pm today, the water level at Rakiraki station was 0.78 meters above warning level and increasing," the government said in a statement. "Given this increasing water level and the high tide at 9:52PM later tonight, it is of extreme importance that those living in these affected areas evacuate to safeground or an evacuation center immediately while it is still daylight. Those in the Rakiraki Town area are advised that Penang Sangam High School is open as the nearest evacuation centre."

There were also road closures across the country, authorities said, including the north coastal road in Taveuni, but the main Queens and Kings roads remained open.

This weekend's storm comes ten months after Cyclone Winston, a category five system, swept across much of the country killing 44 people and causing widespread destruction. The country is still in recovery mode, with replacement crops only fledgling and more than 700 people still living in tents as towns and villages rebuild.

Eseroma Ledua, the operations manager for the Fiji Red Cross, said his organisation was helping those people and many of them had sought shelter in evacuation centres.

"The public's reaction to this tropical depression has been an extreme change from what we've experienced during TC Winston," said Mr Ledua. "They've moved to evacuation centres even before they've heard warnings from the radio, television and the newspaper. It's a good response."

However, Mr Ledua said damage did not appear to be too extensive. "Not much has been reported of homes being damaged. It's just water in low-lying areas."

But with at least another 24-hours of heavy rain forecast to fall on an already saturated country, Mr Kumar stressed that the country was not out of the woods yet, urging people to remain vigilant.