14 Feb 2018

Cyclone Gita 'worst in living memory' on Fiji's Ono-i-Lau

4:33 pm on 14 February 2018

A community leader on the Fiji island of Ono-i-lau says the damaging winds from yesterday's cyclone Gita were the most frightening and dangerous on living memory on the island.

Ono-i-Lau and Vatoa, in the Southern Lau island group between Fiji's main islands and Tonga suffered from gales, heavy rain and coastal flooding when Gita hit yesterday.

Village headman on Ono-i-lau Ilaitia Taleitaki said it was a very dangerous situation for about 12 hours with roofing iron flying around, large trees blown down and food crops reduced to what he called "ground zero".

He said no one was badly injured as most people were in the evacuation centres.

He said the island's elderly people were all saying Gita was the worst storm they have ever experienced and everyone was just happy to be alive today.

"Strong winds that they've never seen before. We've never met before the strong winds like yesterday. And there's plenty damages. Because they are strong houses that they built and some of them have been badly damaged, badly damaged.

"And we walked around the village, this morning and we just walked around and we just looked around the village and it's terrible things we've been seen happening this morning."

Mr Taleitaki said many people were still in the evacuation centres while they recover and begin repairs on their homes.

Peni Butavaka - the head teacher at a school in one of the four villages on Onulevu island - told ABC News there was damage but fortunately, no casualties.

"Mostly these two or three houses that were completely destroyed, the rest of the houses in the village are ok. The things that's mostly affected is the plantations which we rely on for food. Everything else is ok apart from those houses I mentioned that were destroyed."

Noah Sukanasu, from the village of Matokana said told ABC News it was a terrifying experience.

"I'm 68 years now and it's the strongest hurricane I have met...We have lost all our food, we have lost our plantation and our property, [but] the good thing is we all are safe and no one was injured."

Fiji's National Disaster Management Office said it has received reports that three homes were completely destroyed on Ono-i-Lau.

The office's director, Anare Leweniqila, said damage assessments were on-going, but so far there were no reports of casualties or injuries.

"We have only received reports of three completely destroyed houses and we are just working around trying to ascertain the nature of these structures."

Mr Leweniqila said it was unclear if the homes were Fijian bures, made of corrugated iron or wood.

Maritime Police were travelling from Lakeba by boat to check on the residents of Vatoa Island as there has been no communication with them yet since the cyclone passed.

There will be aerial reconnaissance over the southern Lau group of islands to further assess damage later today and the government will mobilise soon to offer support for those affected.

Cyclone Gita likely to weaken

Pacific weather forecasters say that Cyclone Gita, which strengthened to a category five system earlier today, is likely to weaken slightly over the next 24 hours.

Gita is moving away from Fiji's southern islands in a west-south-west direction but is expected to tend southwesterly later.

On this path it will pose little threat to Vanuatu but will approach close to New Caledonia.

Strong wind warning for other Fiji islands

A gale warning was in force for the Fiji islands Ono-i-Lau, Vatoa, Matuku, Totoya, Moala, Kadavu and nearby smaller islands but is cancelled for the rest of the islands in the southern Lau group.

It is expected to continue to have an impact on Kadavu and the other southern Fiji islands until late tonight.

The cyclone warning for the islands was cancelled at about 10pm yesterday when Gita veered to the south.

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