Damage to Fiji overwhelming
Fiji cyclone damage overwhelming, leader says (Associated Press)
SUVA, Fiji — The South Pacific island nation of Fiji has suffered overwhelming damage from a powerful cyclone that battered its shores for more than three days, the prime minister said Wednesday as relief operations were launched in the country's northern regions.
Fiji sent naval patrol boats laden with supplies and support staff sailing for the northern islands that bore the full brunt of the storm, while Australian and New Zealand air force planes began airlifting emergency supplies to the island group.
Only one death has been reported, but the full extent of the damage has yet to be determined because communications to the hardest hit areas were cut off for days.
"It is evident that wherever (Cyclone) Tomas has struck, the damage has been overwhelming," Commodore Frank Bainimarama, Fiji's prime minister and military chief, said Wednesday as the first reports began to roll in.
Cyclone Tomas, packing winds of up to 130 mph (205 kph) at its center and gusts of up to 175 mph (280 kph), started hitting Fiji late Friday. It blasted through the northern Lau and Lomaiviti island groups and the northern coast of the second biggest island, Vanua Levu, before losing strength as it moved out to sea Wednesday, the nation's weather office said.
Matt Boterhoven, senior forecaster at Fiji's Tropical Cyclone Center, said "the good news is it's accelerating away from Fiji ... and weakening in the cooler waters."
Storm surges as high as 7 meters (23 feet) were reported on the island of Lau. The surf will remain high for a couple of days as the energy from this cyclone slowly dissipates. The damage includes houses blown away, trees uprooted, and roads blocked with rocks and coral from the sea. Power, water and sewage are not functioning in many areas.
All storm and strong wind warnings for Fiji have been canceled, he said. Earlier sea surges of up to 23 feet (7 meters) were reported in the Lau island group, which was hit head-on by the cyclone, causing major flooding. The surges would take at least 36 hours to subside, he said.
On the northern island of Koro, seven of the 14 villages have been badly damaged, said Julian Hennings, a spokesman for the island's Dere Bay Resort.
"Some of the houses have blown away. A lot of trees have been uprooted, some of the roads have been blocked off because the waves have picked up rocks and coral and have dumped it on the road," he said. One of four landing jetties was also severely damaged.
Video: Cyclone Tomas batters Fiji (ITN News)