Fiji floods: Days of torrential rain causes severe flooding and landslides, with more rain forecast

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Days of torrential rain have caused severe flooding in parts of Fiji as towns lie underwater, and flood warnings remain in place across much of the country's main island of Viti Levu.

After the first tropical depression of the cyclone season, emergency authorities have moved people to evacuation centres on higher ground after many major roads were blocked by water or landslides and water levels continued to rise.

Fijian journalist Joe Yaya told Pacific Beat that while the weather was improving, the emergency was far from over near the Rewa River, east of the capital, Suva. "The rain has stopped but the river is still rising — it's way past the four-metre level," he said. "The danger is because four other rivers from the northern interior of Viti Levu flow directly into the Rewa river, so it still poses a real threat to the people that live along the delta areas of the river where Nausori town and the airport is as well. "The total number of households that were still living in tents from Cyclone Winston have gone past 3,000 and these people have been absorbed into 50 or so evacuation centres that have been set up. "Some of these families are frustrated, disappointed that Government has not assisted them over the past 10 months since Winston damaged their properties and livelihoods."

Residents of Dreketi village on Qamea Island in the northern division had a lucky escape when half their community was washed into the sea after six days of rain caused massive landslides.

The nursing station and school were among the buildings demolished. "[There were] no casualties to date, although there were a lot of near-death experiences reported in the local media," Yaya said. "The villagers are sheltering in makeshift houses built from what they can salvage and are without clean drinking water."

On Monday, Fiji Airways redirected international flights from Auckland and Sydney to Nadi airport.
Pastor Maika Rainima, a community leader in Nakelo village near Nausori airport, said people were still heading to evacuation centres and the rain was continuing.

He said there were fears the Rewa River would rise because many of the villages at its source in the mountains were underwater.

"That volume of water will come down towards the Rewa River — it's a threat to people, especially in the low-lying areas," he said.

"Water just keeps on increasing even though it's not raining heavily here."

Pastor Rainima said about 500 families were now living in evacuation centres in the Nausori area after floods and landslides damaged their homes and the road infrastructure.

Fiji floods to increase damage bill left by Winston Yaya said the cost of damage to houses and infrastructure across the country would inflate the bill of $1.3 billion, left by the category five Cyclone Winston which hit the archipelago in February.

He said although the full extent of the damage would not be known until local authorities carried out assessments once the weather improved, the destruction so far would indicate a bill running into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Yaya said people who had been displaced in the past week had already been asking for Government assistance. "The flash floods took them by surprise — as the waters damaged their homes, it also look away all of their belongings," he said. "So I think the problem will be now not only will they have to cater for the 3,000 that have been left homeless and living in tents since Winston, but there will be an increase in those that will have to be put up in some sort of makeshift shelter until things get sorted out."

Yaya said communities and the authorities had taken precautions and were well-prepared. "But we have just started the cyclone season and there are half a dozen or so cyclones predicted for this region so this cyclone season is not over. "The nation knows the kind of weather patterns that are ahead and it's just disheartening that this is happening just 10 months after a massive cyclone like Winston grabbed our nation."

Flood warnings remain in place across most of the main island of Viti Levu and a heavy rain warning is in force across much of the country. "It seems like this rain will not stop for the next two days and that's a worry ... because the [Rewa] River is already at a high level and that will cause major flooding," Pastor Rainima said.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation