Authorities in Fiji are working to clear many of the country’s roads after heavy rains and hurricane-force winds brought down powerlines and trees as a cyclone battered the nation overnight.
The Fiji National Disaster Management Office said it had received reports from around the country of fallen powerlines, trees and other debris blocking roads and therefore cutting off accessibility to some parts of Fiji.
Emergency staff were out in the early hours of this morning working to clear those roads.
Photos shared on the Fiji NDMO Facebook page show huge tree trunks snapped in half and now lying across roads. Drains have been blocked by branches and other debris.
Members of the public are being urged to remain indoors and to stay off roads, if possible, so emergency workers can carry out their tasks easily.
Despite the overnight battering, weather authorities say Tropical Cyclone Mal - which turned into a Category 3 strong event - is starting to show signs of weakening and that island nation has largely dodged a bullet.
‘Dodged a bullet’
At 7.30am local time, weather authorities said the cyclone was just swiping the southwestern corner of the Pacific nation. Fiji is an hour behind New Zealand.
“It’s fair to say - based on the maps, at least - that Fiji has dodged a bullet for the most part,” New Zealand’s WeatherWatch said.
The Fiji Meteorological Service said about 6.30amNZT that several parts of Fiji had received “significant rainfall” in the previous 12 hours.
“Further rainfall will increase the risk of flooding in low-laying and flood-prone areas. The next high tide is at around 7.30am (local time).”
The weather authority reported winds of up to 120km/h and gusts of up to 165km/h close to the centre of the cyclone. At 5am local time, the cyclone’s centre was located about 155km southwest of Nadi or 205km west-northwest of Kadavu.
It was said to be moving southeast at a speed of 31km/h.
“While the winds should gradually ease over the Yasawa and Mamanuca groups, and western Viti Levu, gale force winds may continue to be experienced for a few more hours.”
224 Kiwis registered as being in Fiji
People in Vatulele, Kadavu and nearby smaller islands were still warned that there is a risk of storm-to-gale-force winds being maintained over those areas.
“Current analysis indicates that the destructive hurricane-force winds associated with the system is confined close to the centre, so the chance of hurricane-force winds affecting land areas is low.”
People had earlier been told to prepare for the cyclone, as it quickly changed from a Category 1 event to a stronger cyclone.
Yesterday’s heavy rains and forecast heavy rainfalls overnight prompted a flash flood alert issued for low-lying areas of Viti Levu - Fiji’s largest island. That warning remains in place today.
An update from MFAT just before 11.30am said there are now 224 Kiwis registered as being in Fiji - a figure that had increased in the last 24 hours. However, it is thought there are more New Zealanders there and people are urged to register their details on SafeTravel.
“If you are in an area affected by the cyclone, you should follow the advice of the local authorities at all times - including any evacuation orders - and seek suitable shelter,” MFAT’s Safe Travel website says.
A spokeswoman said SafeTravel messaging has been sent to New Zealanders registered as being in Fiji.
“No New Zealanders have sought consular assistance at this stage.”
Kiwis staying in travel accommodation are also advised to follow hotel or resort management advice, stay indoors and to check local news and weather reports via official Fijian authority websites and social media - including on Facebook and Twitter.
Anyone needing emergency assistance should contact local emergency services including Fiji Police on 917, fire services on 910 or 911 or ambulance services on 910 or 911.
New Zealanders needing assistance from the NZ High Commissioner in Suva can contact +679 331 1422 or at NZSuva@mfat.govt.nz (for consular emergencies only after-hours on +64 99 20 20 20).