NZ sends Orion to cyclone-struck Fiji

Report
from Government of New Zealand
Published on 14 Jan 2003
Hon Phil Goff

New Zealand is sending an Air force Orion to Fiji to assess damage caused by Cyclone Ami, Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff announced this afternoon.

The plane was due to depart from Whenuapai at 3.30pm, and arrive in Fiji at 5.30pm local time.

"New Zealand has had contingency plans in place from an early stage to deal with any request for assistance from Fiji. This has meant we've been able to get a plane in the air by mid afternoon."

"Officials in Wellington have been closely monitoring the situation and our High Commission in Suva has been in contact with key Fijian officials throughout the day."

Mr Goff said officials have also kept in close contact with Australian and French counterparts over the past day to ensure coordination of responses to Fijian requests for assistance.

He said the plane is to overnight at Nausori before commencing a reconnaissance flight at first light tomorrow.

Personnel on board will include aid experts from New Zealand, Fiji and Australia.

Tropical Cyclone Ami passed over Eastern Fiji overnight, with hurricane strength winds averaging up to 135km/h and gusts to 185 km/h at its centre.

"Indications of damage are sketchy at this stage but we know that a village on Vanua Levu has been badly damaged by heavy tidal swells. We envisage the reconnaissance flight tomorrow will provide more information. So far we've had no reports of injury to New Zealanders in Fiji, who are either resident or holidaying there," Mr Goff said.

He said the effects of Cyclone Ami were still being felt in Fiji today, but warnings had dropped to gale force level.

The cyclone is being closely watched as it heads south towards the Tonga islands.