State of disaster in cyclone-hit Fiji

The Fiji government declared a state of disaster in the cyclone-ravaged nation Tuesday as the scale of damage began to emerge after 17,000 people fled to evacuation centres.

Cyclone Tomas cut a swathe of destruction through the north and east as winds averaging 165 kilometres (102 miles) an hour lashed the Pacific island group for a second day.

The main island of Viti Levu was spared the worst of the devastation but there were reports of extensive damage from the second largest island, Vanua Levu, and eastern outlying islands, officials said.

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A state of disaster was declared in the north and east of the country after the National Disaster Council, under military leader Voreqe Bainimarama, met Tuesday to assess the first damage reports.

“The National Disaster Council has declared a state of disaster in the northern division and eastern division,” National Disaster Management Office operations officer Anthony Blake said.

“We have so far got a tally of over 50 homes destroyed — a very serious issue. We expect these figures to increase for the next few days,” Blake told reporters.

The full extent of the devastation was still unclear as communications to many of the smaller islands and isolated areas on Vanua Levu remained cut Tuesday.

Authorities were particularly worried about the northern islands of Cikobia and Qelelevu, because there had been no communications since they were hit by the cyclone on Monday, Blake said.

Telecommunications and electricity remained out in many parts of Vanua Levu, and water and sewerage supplies were also affected.

Healthcare facilities and police stations were among the buildings damaged in Vanua Levu.

There were no new reports of casualties after a woman drowned in rough seas at the weekend as the cyclone approached.

More than 17,000 people had fled to evacuation centres by Tuesday — mostly in the north of the country — as the storm damaged buildings and crops, cut communications and power, and flooded many low-lying areas.

By Tuesday, Tomas was over the Lau group, to the east of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, Fiji Meteorological Services director Rajendra Prasad said.

He said the average wind speed had eased from 175 kilometres to 165 kilometres an hour on Tuesday morning.

“The cyclone is expected to maintain its peak intensity for 12 hours or so before commencing a gradual weakening trend,” Prasad said.

The ferocity of the storm was easing in northern areas of the country, he said.

On Gau island to the east of Viti Levu, Lamiti village head teacher Solomone Rasiga told Fiji commercial radio the villagers sheltered overnight from fierce winds and heavy rain.

“The wind is very strong, there is a lot of damage to crops,” he said.

Houses near the sea had been badly damaged and some small houses and outbuildings near the river had been washed away, he said.

The impact of Cyclone Tomas is expected to lessen from Tuesday evening as it moves to the south of Fiji.

Schools and government offices remained closed and a curfew was extended until early Wednesday for all areas except the relatively lightly affected western region of Viti Levu.

The international airport at Nadi in Viti Levu’s west reopened Tuesday although domestic air and shipping services remained suspended.

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