OCHA Situation Report No. 2
Fiji - Tropical Cyclone AMI
Occurred: 14 January 2003
This situation report is based on information provided by the media and the Fiji National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), through the Office of the OCHA Regional Disaster Response Adviser for the Pacific.
1. Tropical Cyclone AMI began as a depression over the southern Tuvalu Islands on 9 January 2003, moving in a south-southwesterly direction. By Sunday 12 January the depression had developed into a tropical cyclone, and the first special weather bulletin was issued by the Regional Meteorological Surveillance Centre in Nadi at 3 p.m. (0300 hours UTC).
2. AMI tracked south and made landfall near Udu Point at the extreme eastern end of Vanua Levu, the second largest island in Fiji, at around 4 a.m. on Tuesday 14 January. It then turned south-southeast and passed over the Natewa Bay and Peninsula of Vanua Levu, Rabi Island, and crossed Taveuni, the third largest island in the group and all parts of Fiji's Northern Administrative Division, at around 5:30 a.m. Its heading took it on a path across the Koro Sea just to the west of the scattered small islands of the Lau Group in Fiji's Eastern Division, and it finally passed within 50 km of Ono-i-Lau, the last and most southerly of the group, at around 4:45 p.m. on the same day.
3. The cyclone continued to move rapidly in a southeasterly direction for the remainder of 14 January. It passed within 150 km of Tongatapu, the Kingdom of Tonga's main island, at around 6:40 p.m. (0540 hours UTC), and dissipated in the cooler latitudes over the Southern Ocean. The damage across Tonga is reported to be relatively light, with no fatalities or injuries.
4. Cyclone AMI was a Category 1/2 storm. It reached peak intensity as it passed over the Koro Sea during 14 January, when winds close to its centre were estimated to be 150 km/hr, with momentary gusts of 200 km/hr. The cyclone also caused heavy rain and flooding of coastal areas due to storm surge. Seas up to 60 km from the centre of the cyclone would have been phenomenal, and they were very rough with heavy swell up to 400 km away. The velocity of travel of the system also doubled from 22 to 45 km/hr as it moved south-southeast across Fiji - a much faster pace than anticipated.
5. The Fiji Meteorological Service issued seven Special Weather Bulletins on Cyclone AMI for Tuvalu, five for Wallis and Futuna, two for Rotuma, 17 for Fiji, and four for Tonga, from 0215 hours UTC on 12 January until 0918 hours UTC on 14 January. Hurricane warnings were put out for the Fijian Islands of Cikobia, Eastern Vanua Levu, Rabi, Kioa, Taveuni, and Qamea, in Northern Division, and Yacata, Kanacea, Vanua Balavu, Naitauba, Mago, Tuvuca, Cicia, Nayau, Lakeba, Vanuavatu, Moce, Namuka-i-Lau, Kabara, Fulaga, Vatoa, and Ona-i-Lau in Eastern Division. Gale warnings were put in place for much wider areas, and strong wind warnings for the whole of Fiji and Tonga.
6. The main areas affected are Eastern Vanua Levu, Taveuni, and the small islands of the Lau Group. In addition to the wind damage to houses, crops, and infrastructure particularly telecommunications, the north coast of Vanua Levu from Labasa to the East, was badly affected by flooding due to the intense rainfall and storm surge. The flooding in coastal areas of Vanua Levu and the smaller islands to its south was exacerbated by the fact that the passage of the cyclone coincided with high tide.
7. In Lomaiviti the islands of Ovalau, Koro and Gau (population: 15,000), have suffered losses to housing, plantations, and livestock. In Lau Group (population: 15,000), the islands of Cicia, Nayau, Vanuavatu, Moala, Totoya, Kabara, Namuka-i-Lau, Fulaga, Ogea, and Ono-i-Lau were all close to the eye of the storm and suffered damage to housing, school-buildings, and crops. Coastal plantations were both flattened by the wind and inundated with saltwater. There were also reports of 'tidal waves' caused by the storm surge that swept away houses in the smaller islands.
8. No reports have been received for Vanuabalavu, and Lakeba in the centre of the Group, due to communications difficulties caused by damage to the vital VHF radio repeater station at Delaikoro on Vanua Levu. 12 other relay stations on Vanua Levu and in Lau were also put out of action by antenna damage and lack of power.
9. Only Vanua Levu (population: 160,000) has any urban areas: Labasa, the main town and seat of the Divisional Administration, and Savusavu, a port. Nine people were killed by flash floods up to 3m deep in Labasa. This damaged telephone and electricity cables, and 75 per cent of the urban and peri-urban population are still without power and, because of this, also water. Labasa Hospital has been operating without reliable water, electricity, and communications. Unspoiled food, essential drugs, and sterile linen and equipment are in short supply, raising concerns for the control of infectious diseases, including leptospirosis which is prevalent in the area. Finally, the main sewerage system in Labasa is also inoperable due to the power failure and flood damage estimated at FJD 100,000 (approx. USD 48,544).
10. In Savusavu one person was killed, communication was cut, and buildings, roads, bridges, and jetties were damaged. The main road across the island, linking Savusavu and Labasa, has been blocked by a landslide. Water supply systems have also been damaged across Taveuni.
11. The confirmed death toll stands at 14, including one child and two infants. A further six people are still missing, feared drowned, after they were swept out to sea.
12. The authorities in Fiji were quick to react to the warnings from the Meteorological Service, and the Ministry of Regional Development activated the national cyclone response plan. The National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) in Suva, EOCs in Central, Northern and Eastern Divisions, and evacuation centres in Vanua Levu and Taveuni were all prepared and staffed from Monday 13 January. Schools and public offices were closed on Tuesday, and the public was continuously advised of the impending danger and the actions they should take to safeguard life and property.
13. The initial aerial reconnaissance on the afternoon of Wednesday 15 January identified that the small islands of Cicia and Vanuavatu in the Central Lau Group seemed worst affected. All three villages on Cicia and the one village on Vanuavatu sustained extensive wind and wave damage, with many houses destroyed. The first of the Fiji Navy's patrol boats reached Cicia with an emergency team, medical supplies, food, water, and temporary shelter materials at 11 a.m. on Thursday 16 January. Another two (of the five) were despatched later the same day with assessment teams and relief supplies, bound for the Lomaiviti Group and the outer islands of the Northern and Southern Lau. The teams on the vessels are expected to submit reports to the NEOC over the weekend.
14. A helicopter carrying medical personnel and an AusAID official were deployed on a two day assessment mission on Friday 17 January, to visit isolated communities on the northeast coast of Vanua Levu, and on the offshore islands of Cikobia and Mali.
15. Tanker trucks have started to deliver water to locations around Labasa, including the hospital, and the Electricity Authority and the Ministry of Works are working to restore mains power and water to the town. They are also actively trying to clear critical road links and ensure that damaged bridges can be opened for limited traffic. Currently only one evacuation centre is still occupied in Labasa, by 50 people who have lost their homes. Other people whose homes are damaged may be accommodated in similar temporary centres.
16. The Prime Minister authorised a disaster declaration for the whole of Vanua Levu, Lomaiviti, and Lau, on Tuesday 14 January. He then joined the aerial reconnaissance that took place the following day. A full Cabinet Meeting will take place on Monday 20 January to consider the steps to be taken following the initial assessment, and also the possibility of making an appeal for international assistance. The NDMO briefed diplomatic representatives in Suva on Friday morning.
17. The NEOC is currently consolidating the damage reports it has received. It has begun to quantify the overall short-term relief needs of the affected population, and to mobilise resources. Meanwhile, a large number of local businesses have come forward with offers of assistance, and public appeals launched by the media and the Fiji Red Cross are meeting a good response.
18. The Government of New Zealand provided an Orion aircraft that conducted a six hour surveillance flight over the affected areas. This enabled the first response to be targeted to the most severely damaged locations.
19. The Government of Australia has contributed up to AUD 25,000 (USD 14,045) for the hire of a helicopter for the first on-the-ground assessment, and it has pledged a further AUD 40,000 (USD 22,472) which will reportedly be channelled through the Fiji Red Cross, as well as FJD 5,000 (USD 2,427) in support of a Fiji national radio emergency relief appeal. AusAID has also offered a quantity of relief in-kind from its emergency stocks in Sydney, if items are unavailable locally.
20. The Government of Japan has offered assistance through its Embassy.
21. OCHA has offered technical assistance to the Government of Fiji through its Regional Disaster Response Adviser, including an UNDAC team if needed. It has allocated an Emergency Grant of USD 30,000 drawn from its own sources as well as from funds pre-positioned by the Government of Norway, for the purchase and transport of relief, through the UN Resident Coordinator in Suva.
22. The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat is in consultation with the Government of Fiji, concerning the possibility of making a grant from its Emergency Relief Fund.
23. The South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) has offered its assistance to conduct a detailed cyclone impact assessment, with a view to reducing future vulnerability.
24. At this stage, the NDMO suggests that the affected communities will need assistance to clear debris from their villages and gardens, and shelter materials such as tents, tarpaulins and sheeting to make temporary repairs to their homes. Those who have lost a large part of their possessions will need clothing, bedding and other household items. 20 litre water containers and large 2,000 litre tanks are an urgent requirement to forestall health problems associated with water shortages, and generators are needed for critical public facilities, to overcome the lengthy power cuts that can be expected whilst the mains systems are restored.
25. A major difficulty for the national management team is the very widespread nature of this disaster; seriously affecting some 30-40,000 people on two large and dozens of tiny islands dispersed across 300,000 square km of open ocean. Lau generally has the least developed infrastructure in Fiji and, together with the damage to communications systems, this has hampered initial assessment. There will therefore be significant time delays and costs in mounting the response operation, and donors may wish to consider supporting with transport assets or funding for logistics.
26. The OCHA Regional Disaster Response Adviser is working within the NEOC in Suva in support of the Government, and will revert with further information as it becomes available. OCHA Geneva is in close contact with the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Fiji.
27. This situation report, together with information on other ongoing emergencies, is also available on the OCHA Internet Website at http://www.reliefweb.int
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