International

Cyclone Harold swamps Fiji

Fijian authorities are scrambling to ensure Cyclone Harold doesn’t make the country’s Covid-19 crisis worse, Teuila Fuatai reports.

As Cyclone Harold hits Fiji, authorities have issued physical distancing and sanitation guidelines for evacuation centres.

Lashing rain and strong winds caused widespread flooding, power outages and damage to homes and buildings on Wednesday. On Viti Levu, Nadi and Suva lost power and heavy flooding put the main street of northern town Ba being underwater. Residents have been advised to stay home, with only emergency services permitted to travel.

The tropical cyclone hit Fiji overnight Tuesday, after making landfall in Vanuatu’s northern islands at its most intense on Monday. It is the worst cyclone to hit Vanuatu since 2015’s Cyclone Pam, and the full-scale of its damage in the northern islands is still being assessed. The New Zealand Government sent an RNZAF Orion this morning to assist with aerial damage assessment.

In Fiji, the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) said by Wednesday morning, about 1000 people had taken shelter in 25 evacuation centres across the country. Residents in low-lying places at risk of flooding continued to be evacuated, and lists of schools, halls, churches and other community buildings identified as appropriate evacuation centres were being published.

“Our team is also aware of the protocols that need to be properly monitored when we evacuate people in hazard areas,” NDMO director Vasiti Soko said.

Cyclone Harold hits Fiji. Photo: Fiji Government. 

“We are working closely with first responders in making sure physical distancing is still being practised in the evacuation centres.

“The Ministry of Health has given us guidance in ensuring that we adhere to the Covid-19 protocol.”

Fiji has 15 confirmed cases of Covid-19. A regional-lockdown strategy sealing off virus hotspots has been used. Suva, Soasoa and Lautoka have all been affected. Police and military checkpoints are being used to patrol the regional lockdown borders, and enforce the nationwide night-time curfew.

In Vanuatu, which is yet to report any Covid-19 cases, public health measures around physical distancing and public gatherings were relaxed to assist in the country’s response to Cyclone Harold.

New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs minister Winston Peters said in addition to the P3 Orion, $500,000 in relief funding had been made available to the Vanuatu Government.

“Assessment of the damage is ongoing, and we will consider any further assistance if requested from the Government of Vanuatu,” Peters said.

“We are aware that the Government of Vanuatu is running a ‘keep it out’ strategy, and we will give serious consideration to ensure that any response to the cyclone does not lead to the spread of Covid-19 to Vanuatu.”

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