17 Dec 2012

Fiji battered by hurricane winds

9:11 pm on 17 December 2012

Nadi is still being hammered by ferocious hurricane wind as tropical Cyclone Evan moves away from the city.

The Metservice says wind is still gusting up to 150kms an hour and rain is falling at about 20mm per hour.

It says the eye of the cyclone is now nearly 40kms away from Nadi and is moving in a south, south-west direction.

Forecaster Bill Singh says Nadi is not in the clear yet, but the winds should start to ease to gale force later on Monday night.

He says all of Fiji is being hammered by rain.

A taxi driver in the Fiji town of Lautoka being battered by hurricane winds says trees are toppling onto people's homes, houses are shaking and roofs are being blown off.

Daniel Paul is on the west of the main island where winds are gusting up to 200 kms per hour.

He and his family are at the back of their house which is being swamped by rain water that has leaked through the roof.

He told Checkpoint the house is shaking and a tree has just toppled onto it.

Mr Paul says he has been told the worst is expected to hit at 9pm Monday evening.

Nadi feels full force of gale

Nadi has felt the full force of Cyclone Evan over the past few hours.

The Metservice says the category 4 cyclone is bringing winds of nearly 160 kms.

Forecaster Steve Ready says the eye of the cyclone is straddling the northern coast of Viti Levu, and has passed close to Nadi, where ferocious winds and rain are battering the city.

He says the next few hours will be critical for Nadi, but the cyclone should track south later tonight and pass to the east of Kadavu.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully says New Zealand officials are monitoring the situation, and will provide cash and logistical support to help with the recovery if and when required.

Thousands of people are holed up in evacuation centres.

Director general for the Red Cross, FilipeNainoca says it has seven supply centres in the west, and five in the north.

But he says because of the extent of the cyclone, and how far reaching it will be, resources will be stretched.

Mr Nainoca says once the cyclone has passed through, they will head to the worst affected areas with basic supplies.

NZ students stranded in Nadi

A group of students and teachers from a school in Christchurch are stranded in Nadi airport as hurricane-force winds batter the city.

The school principal of Middleton Grange School says he last spoke to the students at 4pm on Monday, but has not been able to get through since because communications are down.

Richard Vanderpyl, whose daughter Lucie is one of the seven students stuck in Fiji, says the element of excitement dissipated quickly as the students realised the seriousness of the storm.

He says the students have been told by Air New Zealand they will be able to fly home on Tuesday afternoon.

Seeking shelter

The cyclone passed the north-west island of Vanua Levu on Monday morning, where 3,700 people are holed up in 45 evacuation centres.

It is making its way down the Yasawa and Mamanuca islands, before it is expected to sweep past the western part of the main island, Viti Levu.

Severe damage is anticipated along the path of the cyclone, which reached Nadi on Monday afternoon.

Forecaster Alipate Waqaicelua said it will be a bad situation for western coastal towns on the main island, and Nadi, as the storm slows, then picks up pressure.

The cyclone earlier hit the north-west island of Vanua Levu, where hotel owners described the gusts of winds as being like a train rattling past.

Some 2700 tourists were relocated from the islands to the main island on Sunday.

Flooding is already reported in the north of Fiji and there are fears for low-lying islands in the west.

A curfew is in place in the north and may be extended on Monday afternoon.

All flights cancelled

All flights in and out of Fiji are cancelled on Monday.

There are no flights to and from Nadi on Monday by Air New Zealand, Air Pacific and Virgin Australia. Pacific Sun, a regional service, has cancelled all its services.

Several people on the last planes to leave on Sunday said Nadi airport was extremely busy.

Ferries are also cancelled.

The NZ High Commission in Fiji on Sunday advised New Zealanders there to register with it before the arrival of Evan. It said they should also keep in touch with family at home.

The High Commission says about 400 New Zealanders are registered as being in Fiji.