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12 Apr 2004 09:50
Fiji, still reeling from a severe storm that killed seven people last week and left 10 missing, was braced on Monday for strong winds that the meteorology centre warned were on the way.
A strengthening high-pressure system was expected to bring heavy ocean swells and strong winds within 24 hours, weather director Rajendra Prasad warned.
The coastal areas of on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu and the islands of Vatulele, Beqa, Kadavu, Southern Lau and the Mamanucas were especially at risk, Prasad said.
Authorities still do not know the full extent of the damage caused by the severe rainstorm that deluged the Pacific nation on Thursday, said disaster management committee controller Eroni Delai.
“We are only able to speak to some of the islands through their RT [radio telephone] while there may be suffering in other islands which we still can’t reach,” he said.
Many would not have heard the warning about the severe winds.
“Even though we cannot reach [contact] some islands, they are usually prepared for such weather situations mostly by just spotting differences in cloud formation that are unusual for these months,” Delai said.
“Our forefathers prepared themselves before without weather bulletins and it continues. We will just have to visit the islands when we can, eventually.”
Delai that while the death toll from Thursday’s storm remained at seven, including passengers of a bus forced into a flooded river by a landslide, another person had been reported missing.
“The number of people missing has just increased to 10 after police confirmed a few minutes ago that the son of the bus driver was amongst passengers,” Delai said.
A French navy plane from neighbouring New Caledonia failed on Sunday to find any sign of five fishermen missing since Thursday.
Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase will meet disaster management officials and division commissioners on Tuesday to discuss damage assessments.
There have been no official estimates of the damage, which Delai described as “extensive”.
Viti Levu was especially hard hit by Thursday’s storm, with hundreds of villagers left homeless.
The Red Cross has begun relief work and health authorities are watching for outbreaks of diarrhoea and dysentery.
Fiji, between New Zealand and Hawaii, is an archipelago with a population of 845 000 people.
Its sugar crop, badly hit by the storm, is responsible for about 40% of the gross national product.—Sapa-AFP
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