14 Dec 2009

Cyclone Mick batters Fiji

11:20 pm on 14 December 2009

Cyclone Mick continues to bring heavy rain and strong winds to southern Fiji amid reports of houses being destroyed and widespread power cuts.

The category two cyclone hit the popular tourist destinations of the Yasawa and Mamanuca islands earlier on Monday before tracking across Fiji's main island of Viti Levu.

Nick Wood, the owner of Octopus Resort on Waya Island in the Yasawa group, says staff had to huddle with guests in the resort's cyclone shelter as Cyclone Mick passed directly overhead.

He says the ferocity of storm caught many of the outer resorts by surprise, with winds gusting up to 150 kilometres per hour.

Mr Wood says while he has received no reports of injuries, the cyclone uprooted trees and cut off phone services.

The Red Cross in Fiji says it has received reports of some houses being completely destroyed in the Yasawa islands, as well as in the town of Ba, north of Nadi.

The Fiji Meteorological Service says Cyclone Mick has now crossed the main island of Viti Levu and is expected to lie about 45 kilometres southeast of Suva at midnight on Monday.

The acting manager for forecasting, Robin Nataniele, says northern parts of Fiji are on gale warning as Cyclone Mick moves further south.

"We have got a tropical storm warning for the southeast half of Viti Levu and the smaller islands to the south of the group."

Aid agencies prepare

A disaster co-ordinator, Vuli Gauna, says all Red Cross branches were activated as the cyclone crossed Viti Levu.

He says evacuation centres were set up as heavy rain and high winds battered the island and brought trees down in the capital Suva, where there is considerable flooding.

A disaster relief spokesperson says electricity was cut to a large part of the island as a precaution and evacuation centres were set up.

The UN Children's Emergency Fund says it has emergency supplies prepared to support children and families.

Radio New Zealand International reports that public servants not involved with disaster management coordination or essential coordination services were sent home early on Monday.

The Public Service Commission's permanent secretary, Parmesh Chand, says they decided to heed the cyclone warning and send staff home to prepare.

"We take our cue from the Disaster Management Centre and essentially in line with the advice we have received we have taken the necessary precautions including sending staff home."