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Overview of weather / flooding situation: 9:00am 26/01/12

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The following is excerpted from the press conference this morning:

According to the latest weather forecasts, rain has cleared away from the west. There may be a few showers in the east and south today.

And a few heavier rainfalls may take place in the north, but it is not likely to cause any significant river flooding, beyond the usual flash flooding of creeks and streams.

Longer term is still up in the air—tomorrow and over the weekend. There is a risk of more rain over the west, and we will be monitoring that closely.

As such, a severe flood warning remains in force for major rivers, streams and low-lying areas of Western and Northern Viti Levu.

Everyone must remain vigilant and prepared.

Last night, for the third night in a row, controlled movement was been put in place in relevant areas—specifically in Nadi and other areas in the Western District.

This measure has served to help ensure the safety of Fijians and the integrity of the affected business communities.

As you know, Emergency Services have been working since Saturday when the situation began to limit danger to citizens and tourists.

Even now, we need continued cooperation from the public to adhere to public safety instructions, avoid low-laying areas, and not travel to affected areas unnecessarily.

With this, unfortunately, I now must confirm some tragic news.

Late last night, it was confirmed that a family of four—two adults and two children—perished in a landslide at Tukuraki village, Yakete, Ba.

Due to the weather conditions and flooding, rescue services could not reach them.

Locals have been trying their best to help the situation. However, the family could not be reached as of nightfall last night. Efforts to reach them continue this morning.

Further details of this tragic event can be confirmed with the Police.

This now brings the total deaths related to flooding and weather to six. I ask everyone to keep those lost and their families in your prayers.

Aside from this, there are also 74 evacuation centers housing 3,463 displaced peoples.

Power and water supplies are still off in certain areas throughout the Western Division. By yesterday Ba and Rakiraki have been restored. Some water supplies are still affected though.

Schools remain closed, and tourist areas continue to be largely unaffected. There have been no major cancellations of hotel bookings by tourists.

Overall, the situation has stabilized, and flood waters are retreating in key areas. As I have said, it is important for everyone to remain alert and cautious to the dangers that still exist.

With improved conditions, we are now heading into the next phase of this weather event.

To help facilitate this next phase, Government has decided to declare a STATE OF NATURAL DISASTER FOR PARTS OF THE WESTERN DIVISION.

To reiterate, this is a STATE OF NATURAL DISASTER. It only applies only to PARTS of the WESTERN DIVISION—those worst affected by flooding.

As you know, Government leaders and emergency services have been assessing whether to make this call since yesterday.

What this means is that it allows resources to be further consolidated for continuous monitoring, rescue and clean up.

Even if the waters subside and there is no more rain, we still have a lot of work ahead of us.

The public needs to take precaution against water-borne illnesses. The Ministry of Health has made available fact sheets regarding these diseases. I highly recommend people familiarize themselves with them.

There is still proper damage assessments and economic impact to consider. There is rebuilding and rehabilitation.

The Prime Minister has launched a Flood Relief Appeal.

We are already also receiving other offers of aid from various organizations and governments.

The United States through the American Red Cross has pledged $50,000. Vodafone has also pledged the same amount of support.

This is of course consistent with past giving. In January 2009, when Fiji experienced severe flooding in the Western and Central Divisions.

If you recall, during that storm approximately 147,000 people were affected by the floods, of which almost 12,000 people were forced from their homes. 11 people died.

Again, I thank everyone who has contributed time and effort—the emergency services, the Red Cross, friends and neighbors Also, I must ask everyone for continued cooperation and to adhere to public safety instructions, avoid low-laying areas, and not travel to affected areas unnecessarily.