18 Mar 2010

NZ Air Force delivers relief and surveys damage from Cyclone Tomas in Fiji

9:02 am on 18 March 2010

A New Zealand Hercules plane has completed a reconnaissance of areas of Fiji ravaged by Cyclone Tomas and has delivered relief supplies, as reports of the extent of the damage begin to filter through.

Relocation of the many people who fled their homes to shelter from the cyclone has been the focus of police efforts in Fiji's Northern Division late on Wednesday.

There are initial reports that Cyclone Tomas has inflicted extensive damage to the Lau Group in Fiji, with 1,500 homes destroyed or damaged and as many as 50 percent of facilities affected.

The first secretary development at New Zealand's High Commission in Fiji, Tom Wilson, says the airforce team gathered valuable information from areas like Cikobia which appears to be among the worst hit by Tomas.

"That survey revealed damage particularly to the island of Cikobia which was underneath Cyclone Tomas for some time over Monday and Tuesday this week. There was damage to buildings, there looked like there'd been some inundation from the ocean to one of the coastal villages on that island. And those images have been relayed back to the Fijian authorities."

Tom Wilson.

The Northern Police Commissioner, Colonel Inia Seruiratu, says the Hercules has been valuable in helping to reach the outer islands.

But he says communications in those badly affected areas is still a major problem.

We have some ideas on the extent of the damage. We have also pushed out damage assessment teams into most remote areas although it's just initial assessment at this stage so we can gauge priorities in terms of essential services and basic needs that the people need.

Colonel Seruiratu says they have not put any figures behind the extent damage at this stage.

The Tourism chief of Fiji is on his way to New Zealand to persuade business partners here that Fiji is still safe to sell as a holiday destination.

While most of the northern and eastern Fijian Islands were hit hard in the last few days by winds gusting to more than 240 kilometeres an hour, most holiday resorts are not based in the worst hit areas.

The chief executive of Tourism Fiji, Josefa Tuamoto, says he will explain the true picture of the cyclone to New Zealand's tourism leaders in Auckland tomorrow.

It's normal, it's business as usual I guess for our perspective because all the lines are back to normal now and ninety five percent of hotels are in the Western Division which as no impact at all with the cyclone.

Josefa Tuamoto says domestic flights will remain suspended until aviation authorities have assessed all local airfields.