Fiji struggled yesterday with devastating floods that have brought the country and its tourist industry to a standstill as authorities warned that conditions could worsen with a cyclone bearing down.
Cyclone Daphne is expected to compound the damage in the South Pacific nation, where a state of emergency is in force, and flash floods have claimed at least three lives and forced 8,000 people to seek refuge in evacuation centers.
Fiji has “had a bashing,” -Fijian Permanent Secretary of Information Sharon Smith Johns said, with water and power supplies cut in most areas, many roads closed and food supplies dwindling.
Thousands of tourists staying in Fiji’s popular resorts were forced to contend with limited services as they waited for flood waters to recede enough to get to the airport, where they faced chaotic scenes.
“The information we’ve been given has been terrible. They say flights are on, but you turn up and they’ve been canceled,” said Dorothy May Pechalaiya, whose flight back to London was delayed from Sunday until at least today.
“I had to sleep on a bench [at the airport] last night and I’m going to have to do it again tonight, and I’m disabled,” she added, pointing to her walking stick. “I’m really angry about the way we’ve been treated.”
Davendra Singh said he had been forced to close his car rental business at Nadi airport, about two hours and 30 minutes drive from Fiji’s capital, Suva, because he did not want vehicles wrecked in the dangerous driving conditions.
“This was supposed to be a busy week because we’ve got Easter coming up, lots of group bookings and tours. We’ve canceled all that and have to see what happens with the cyclone now,” he said.
The Fiji Meteorological Service warned of an approaching cyclone and said more flooding on the main island of Viti Levu, where both Suva and Nadi are located, was expected.
It forecast “damaging gale-force winds” with gusts up to 110kph and “severe flooding of major rivers, streams and low-lying areas, including sea flooding of low-lying coastal areas.”
A government spokesman said the situation was worse than January floods in which 11 people died, with twice as much rainwater falling in half as much time.
However, late yesterday, the government lifted its embargo on airlines carrying people into the country, the national carrier Air Pacific advised. A number of empty planes have already flown in to ferry tourists out.
“This is very bad for Fiji, it will take a long time to fix up and get the tourists back,” Nadi taxi driver Mohammad Yakub said.
He said his family was surviving on tinned food because all the crops on his small plot of land had been destroyed and his local market was unlikely to reopen for weeks.
Although Fiji has not called for international assistance, Australia and New Zealand said they were ready to help.
The regional powers have had a fractured relationship with Fiji since Fijian Interim Prime Minsiter Voreque Bainimarama seized control in a 2006 military coup.