18 Dec 2012

State of natural disaster declared in Fiji after Cyclone Evan

6:38 pm on 18 December 2012

A state of natural disaster has been declared for Fiji's Northern and Western division after the devastation caused by Cyclone Evan.

Fiji authorities say it will be in effect for 15 days to allow rehabilitation work to be accelerated.

Almost 8,500 people are in evacuation centres, electricity is out and water supply intermittent across much of country in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Evan.

The category four storm, one rating below the highest level, has torn a trail of destruction down the coastal parts of the country's northern and western divisions and is now over the southern island of Kadavu.

Evan's wrath was worst in areas already hit badly earlier this year by the floods that destroyed homes, businesses and farms along the northern and western coasts of Fiji's two main islands.

But the immediate past president of the Lautoka Chamber of Commerce, Swani Maharaj, says the force of the cyclone was incomparable to previous storms.

"I don't think we have ever experienced wind force of this velocity any other time during my 65 years of age."

The wind, gusting at up to 270 kilometres per hour, stripped houses of their roofs and felled power poles and trees, leaving much of the northern and western divisions without electricity.

Swani Maharaj says it's the working class people of his district that will be worst off.

Poor people in the poverty-stricken areas, which are squatter settlements and lower income groups, they have definitely suffered. And they will need a lot of food supplies and shelter arrangements if anyone can help.

Although conditions in most of Fiji have eased, one hundred and 47 evacuation centres are now holding almost eight and a half thousand people and those on Kadavu Island are bearing the brunt of the storm.

As the clean-up begins, Fiji's Ministry of Information has given government employees until Thursday to return to work.