2,000 evacuated, one dead as cyclone hammers Fiji

WELLINGTON • A storm pounding Fiji yesterday killed one man who was swept away in floodwaters, drove nearly 2,000 people into emergency shelters, and caused widespread damage.

National Disaster Management Office director Vasiti Soko has urged locals and the thousands of tourists in Fiji not to be reckless as Tropical Cyclone Sarai lashed the Pacific island nation with heavy rain and destructive winds.

With wind gusts strengthening to 150kmh during the day, Sarai destroyed houses and crops, brought down trees, cut power and caused considerable flooding in low-lying areas.

Thousands of holidaymakers were stranded, with flights to and from Fiji either cancelled or rescheduled. Fiji Airways, which suspended its services on Friday and yesterday, will resume most of its services from today.

New Zealander Melonie Sheppard, who was holidaying on Mana Island to the west of mainland Fiji, described the situation as "scary" and said the resort she was staying in was in lockdown.

"We're being hammered by intense winds and horizontal rains. The resort is providing packed meals and water direct to rooms when it can," she told the New Zealand Herald.

She described howling winds, flying debris and doors and windows shaking, adding: "Water is now leaking into some rooms - it's a bit scary at times."

The National Disaster Management Office said that as of mid-morning yesterday, 1,970 people had sought emergency shelter, adding that there had been no reports of any injuries.

However, an 18-year-old student drowned as he tried to cross a flooded river in waters on the southern island of Kadavu, 200km south of the Fijian capital of Suva.

On its present track, the cyclone is forecast to head towards Tonga, which has activated its tropical cyclone warning centre. The storm is expected to arrive there late today.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 29, 2019, with the headline '2,000 evacuated, one dead as cyclone hammers Fiji'. Print Edition | Subscribe