Thousands shift as rains loom in Fiji

Thousands of people have been evacuated from flood-affected areas in Fiji as the South Pacific nation braces itself for more heavy rain.

The official toll from a week of flash flooding was 10 dead and 11 missing, with the deluge inundating homes, cutting roads and wiping out crops.

The flood waters had receded yesterday but forecasters warned another heavy downpour overnight could cause already swollen rivers to overflow.

Two thousand people were sheltering in evacuation centres in the Navua area on the main island of Viti Levu.

The flood waters which covered the town, 30km west of the capital Suva, had receded, leaving the local hospital and homes covered in two feet of mud.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, who visited Navua yesterday, said the evacuated residents were in very high spirits.

"They seem to be taking the whole thing in their stride."

He said residents would have to stay in the evacuation centres for a few more days, until the clean-up was completed.

One man has told how he clung to a Hindu temple dome for six hours before being rescued by the Navy, after he and three other men were swept away when the Navua river burst its banks.

"I was lucky to hang on to a 44-gallon drum, which followed the current towards the sea," Jo Gavidi said.

"When I saw the Vuanidina Temple dome, I knew it was my last hope because if I missed it, I would end up in the sea."

Ministry of Information spokeswoman Reama Galodamu said the evacuation efforts were centred on Navua, but residents were also being moved to higher ground in the Rewa River area, north of Suva.

Fiji's Disaster Management Committee said 11 people were missing after the week's floods, with a Tacirua woman now added to the list.

Fiji was still reeling from flash floods last week, which killed 10 people, when a second severe storm hit yesterday.

Fiji Meteorological Service director Rajendra Prasad said a trough hanging to the west of Fiji should move over the country overnight, resulting in rain over most places with some heavy falls. Most of the country should return to fine weather from tomorrow.

Australia and New Zealand yesterday pledged a total of $F35,000 ($31,660) to the Fiji Red Cross Society to help replenish relief supplies.

Australia will also provide water purification tablets to help provide safe drinking water in flood-affected communities.

- NZPA

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