Severe floods in the Pacific island nation of Fiji have killed four people and left thousands of tourists stranded, government officials said on Monday.
Rain and wind from Tropical Cyclone Daphne lashed Fiji's largest and most populous island, Viti Levu, as an estimated 8,000 people sought shelter in evacuation centers. The Fiji Meteorological Service said Monday that it would keep its severe flood warning for all major rivers, streams, and low lying areas. Meanwhile, Fiji government officials began touring the affected areas.
The extreme weather disrupted both international and domestic travel as authorities suspended inbound flights to Nadi International Airport, the main international gateway to Fiji, because nearby roads were completely flooded. Officials lifted the suspension Monday, but the situation is being monitored closely and the suspension is subject to review.
Nadi International Airport, which serves about 1.2 million passengers a year, became a shelter Sunday as frustrated tourists slept on airport benches waiting for the first flights out.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised its country's citizens planning to fly into Fiji to reconsider their need to travel.
Stricken tourists have raised concerns about food shortages, clean water, and electricity in damaged hotels. Some resorts reportedly helicoptered guests out to safer locations.
There is no water, food is running out, we are on generator power, and the situation is critical, Anna Dennis, whose family was holed up at the Shangri La hotel on Yanuca Island, told Melbourne's Herald Sun. We are planning on leaving here with our three sons under six in the morning to chance it at getting a chopper to the airport then getting any available flight out.
Please make people aware that we are here and we are stuck and we need help, she added.
Fiji is a popular destination for both Australians and New Zealanders and was particularly busy for the week leading up to Easter. Stranded tourist Anita Gray told the New Zealand Herald that visitors were competing for vacancies at hotels near the airport, some of which had hiked rates.
The worrying thing is it's getting harder and harder to get to the airport because the roads are flooded and have disappeared in some places, she said. This morning only four-wheel-drives were able to get through and it's absolutely pouring down now.
Nobody's getting in or out at the moment, she added.
Those stranded in Fiji Sunday night included up to 2,000 Australian tourists, however officials said no foreign nationals have been injured. Air Pacific, Virgin Atlantic, and Jetstar planned to schedule flights to Fiji Monday to help the stranded Australians get out. Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the airline, which does not have a scheduled route to Fiji, was also considering adding flights to get Aussies home.
Air New Zealand sent two flights to get New Zealanders out Monday. All flights into Fiji will arrive empty because the Fiji Government has temporarily banned inbound passengers.
Though Fiji has not called for international assistance, Australia and New Zealand have said they are ready to help.
Both regional powers have had a fractured relationship with Fiji since naval officer Voreqe Bainimarama took power in a 2006 military coup. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said the nation would work with non-government agencies rather than the regime while Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Canberra would provide up to $1 million to support disaster relief efforts.
Though Tropical Cyclone Daphne is moving away from Fiji, forecasters predict the possibility of thunderstorms for two more days as the system heads southeast.
Tafazul Gani, a correspondent for a Fijian magazine, told Australia's ABC that the damage in Nadi is extensive.
Basically, if you look at the town, the town is totally decimated. It actually looks like a warzone, he said.
There is not a single shop in the town which has not been affected. Some shops actually have nothing left. Everything that was in the shop, the counter, the merchandise, everything got washed away.
Floodwaters are now beginning to recede enough that locals can begin what will likely be a long and costly clean-up.