(Video: TV1, Fiji)
(HN, March 31, 2012) - One person has died and five others are missing in Fiji as sudden widespread flooding is causing havoc on the main island of Viti Levu. Flash floods have cut highways in half and forced evacuations along the island's west coast, with some residents waiting out the rising water on rooftops.
Since Thursday, continuous heavy rainfall has resulted in towns, settlements and villages in the Western Division being submerged for the second time this year. What's made the current situation different is the influx of calls for assistance from people stranded in their homes and businesses.
Workers at a Nadi resort frantically called The Fiji Times office in Lautoka after calls for assistance went unanswered for more than six hours as close to a dozen hotel staff - including a 2 year old baby - were left stranded on the property situated near Martintar in Nadi.
The National Fire Authority said 11 evacuation centers have opened, although no figures detailing how many people were sheltering were immediately available. The country's rescue units were heavily engaged, speeding through rising floodwaters to help people tho itself asking for boats to help with the rescue efforts. Emergency services were stretched in what has been described as the worst floods ever.
Strong winds blew roofs off of structures and heavy rains as rivers, creeks and waterways spilled as closing roads and washing away bridges and walkways.
At 9.30am yesterday District Officer Nadi Peni Koro said his office and the Nadi Police Station were surrounded by water with swift currents making it difficult for his team to venture out and gauge the situation in the central business district area.
"Nadi Town is closed to all vehicular and foot traffic and people will not be allowed into town", he said.
In Ba, the special administrator Arun Prasad said his town had just started to recover from the January floods when the Ba River broke its banks again sending sludge, mud and sewage into the streets.
"The town area, FSC and Yaladro flats are heavily under water. This is worse than the floods that happened in January," he said.
Authorities say there are serious concerns of further flooding with the onset of high tides and a forecast of rain continuing for another 24 hours.
A complaint by many has been that a disaster plan was not in place and business owners in the Western Division say the lack of warning by authorities could result in extensive damage. Ratish Kamal Roy, the managing director of Bargain Box Fiji Limited, which employs close to 50 people at three different stores affected, said that had warnings been given earlier, he would have instructed staff to move merchandise to a safer area.
"The water level is significantly higher than the floods in January and this could result in a lot of damage to stock," he said.
City markets and bus stations were empty as bus companies stop services and vendors were caught without any means of transport.
On Friday, Air New Zealand cancelled flights to Fiji's only international airport, in Nadi; and an advisory by Air Pacific cancelled all domestic flights in country and diverted flights to Apia, Samoa until further notice.
CONCERN FOR HEALTH
A warning issued by the Fiji Health Ministry urged residents and tourists to take extra care of their health due to the cold, wet weather and rising floodwaters, saying the increased moisture could lead to respiratory illnesses like Dengue fever, influenza, typhoid, and leptospirosis.
Worries that standing water after the flooding would increase mosquitoe production and therefore disease caused authorities to advise using rubber gloves outside, and the Ministry told everyone to boil drinking water as it would likely be contaminated, and could produce diarrhea like illness.