6 Apr 2018

'The last thing we need.' Fiji's sodden west preps for another cyclone

7:27 pm on 6 April 2018

With rivers still raging, thousands still in temporary shelters, and streets and farmland caked in silt and mud after Cyclone Josie little more than a week ago, residents in Fiji's sodden west are now being warned to be prepare for the arrival of yet another cyclone.

"It's the last thing we need," said Mathew Bolaitamana, a Red Cross official coordinating aid relief in the western half of Viti Levu, the country's main island.

The damage caused by Cyclone Josie.

The damage caused by Cyclone Josie. Photo: Facebook/ Fiji Government

On Friday, the Fiji Meteorological Service said a tropical depression called TD13F continued to gather strength near Vanuatu.

It was slowly moving east, and by the time it reached Fiji on Sunday or early Monday would probably be a cyclone.

"It's definitely going to affect Fiji," said Stephen Meke, a meteorologist at the service.

"The way we are analysing now is that if it comes close to Fiji then it might be a category one or even a category two, but if it stays out ... in the open waters then maybe it can become even stronger than what we had with Tropical Cyclone Josie."

The tropical depression was intensifying in waters near Vanuatu. By the time it reached Fiji on Sunday, it would likely be a cyclone, forecasters said.

The tropical depression was intensifying in waters near Vanuatu. By the time it reached Fiji on Sunday, it would likely be a cyclone, forecasters said. Photo: Fiji Meteorological Service

Cyclone Josie crossed Fiji last weekend as a category one. It packed a strong punch in the western division, particularly around the towns of Nadi and Ba.

It killed six people, caused extensive damage to infrastructure and crops, and contaminated water supplies. It spilled debris across vast areas, including the centre of the town of Ba.

Mr Bolaitamana said there had been little reprieve from heavy rain since then.

On Friday, the area continued to be pelted by heavy rain, picking up intensity with the forecast cyclone still two days away. River levels around Rakiraki, a flood-prone town in the north of Viti Levu, were already rising, residents said.

Since Cyclone Josie, aid relief had spread across the affected region. However, Mr Bolatimana said acute problems remained.

Major flooding in Ba, Fiji.

Cyclone Josie, which hit Fiji's west last weekend, caused major flooding in the town of Ba. Photo: Fiji Village

"We still have around 40 evacuation centres open and these evacuation centres have a total of 2,313, I think, people still in these evacuation centres," Mr Bolaitamana said.

"The greatest need right now on the ground has been water," he said.

"The last thing we really need right now is the arrival of another tropical cyclone."

On current forecasts, another cyclone (it will probably be named Kala, according to a World Meteorological Organisation list) is what Fiji's sodden west is in for.

"We expect the path to be very similar to the path that Josie took last weekend," said Mr Meke. "The west is already feeling it and, yes, [there might be] another episode of severe flooding."

Mr Meke said that, on current forecasts, the system was likely to reach Fiji on Sunday, packing damaging winds and heavy rains as it tracks past the west, before moving towards the southern islands.

Mr Bolaitamana said with people and infrastructure already struggling, and rivers already swollen, people should stock up on supplies and seek shelter sooner rather than later.

He said evacuation centres were the best place, especially as the Red Cross was considering standing down relief efforts until the latest storm passed.