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Cyclone Cody forces Fiji climate refugees to take shelter at school

Wednesday 12 January 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in Fiji, Regional

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Cyclone Cody forces Fiji climate refugees to take shelter at school
The now abandoned Nabavatu Village in Dreketi, Macuata on Fiji's second largest island, Vanua Levu. Photo: Supplied

Two hundred climate change refugees in Fiji's north, who were relocated in the wake of Cyclone Ana last year, were forced to take shelter at a school last weekend.

Tropical Cyclone Cody hit Fiji on Monday leaving one man dead and causing widespread damage across the country.

Nabavatu villagers in Dreketi, Macuata, on Fiji's northern island of Vanua Levu, had been living in tent houses since January last year after large land cracks destroyed the village church and several homes.

The villagers have since been temporarily relocated to the Assemblies of God Church compound at Savadrua Settlement.

The government had identified several sites to relocate the villagers, but geological survey findings in June last year revealed the area was not fit for occupancy.

Eseroma Lava, of Dreketi District in Vanua Levu, said the villagers from Nabavatu were moved to Maramarua Primary School last Saturday after heavy rain and strong winds lashed the area.

Lava said their temporary shelter at the AOG Church compound was taken down to prevent any damage from Cyclone Cody.

He said since relocating to the school, the villagers have had to provide for themselves and are managing by sharing meals at the evacuation centre.

Lava said moving around was a challenge particularly for the elderly and children in the village.

"Whatever food we get from the farm is used for everyone, so our wives cook together in the classroom," he told the Fiji Times.

"It's not easy but we have no choice because we can't go back to our houses in the village because it has been declared a hazardous site."

The villagers were relocated from Nabavatu in January last year after weather associated with Severe Tropical Cyclone Ana resulted in cracks appearing on the village lawn and infrastructure.

Food been delivered to an evacuation centre in Fiji.
Food been delivered to an evacuation centre in Fiji. Photo: Fiji Government

Strong winds, flood threat remains - Met Service

As of Wednesday, the National Disaster Management Office said 4,630 people were at 162 evacuation centres - 115 shelters in the Western Division, 42 in the Central and five in the Northern Division.

Strong winds and severe flood warnings remain in force for the Fiji group this week, the Nadi weather office said.

Heavy rain is expected to continue on Vanua Levu and this is expected to hamper clean-up efforts, emergency management authorities said.

Police in the Northern Division had urged residents on the importance of staying safe.

Divisional Police Commander Northern Viliame Soko said they were 'not out of the woods yet' and people living in low-lying areas should continue to take heed of the weather warnings.

"Identify the nearest evacuation centres, and again we are reminding parents to ensure children do not play in flooded waters, especially near streams and creek to avoid drowning," Assistant Superintendent Soko said.

The Fiji Met Service also issued heavy rain warnings for the Lau and Lomaiviti groups.

It said the severe flood warning also remains in force for all low-lying areas, Nakauvadra River in Rakiraki, Ba River, Waibula River (Korovou), Rewa River (Waimanu, Waidina, Wainimala and Wainibuka), Qawa (Dreketilailai, Boubale, Urata, Boca), Labasa (Nakama Crossing) and Nasekawa River.

Inside an evacuation centre in Rakiraki
Inside an evacuation centre in Rakiraki Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Schools remain closed

Fiji Met said a flood alert also remains in force for low-lying areas of Nawaka in Nadi, Sigatoka and Navua River on Fiji's main island - Viti Levu; and the Wailevu River, Bucaisau River, Wainikoro River, Nasorowaqa River, Lekutu River, Dama River, Wainunu River and Yanawai River on Vanua Levu.

An active trough of low pressure continues to affect the northern and eastern parts of the country, the Nadi weather office said.

Schools will remain shut and the Education Ministry said it will wait for the Health Ministry's assessment and clearance before reopening.

The majority of schools were used as evacuation centres during Cyclone Cody and the ministry stated that these schools would be decontaminated before being reopened.

As of Wednesday, 37 schools in the Western Division had been open for evacuation centres, eight in the north, eight in the central division and five in the east.

Heads of schools are working to ensure that Covid-safety protocols were in place and followed in the evacuation centres, the ministry said.

Teachers are also reporting to schools so they can be involved in the re-setting, cleaning up and preparations for reopening.

Fijian firefighters give tourists a ride to Nadi Airport amid Cyclone Cody.
Fijian firefighters give tourists a ride to Nadi Airport amid Cyclone Cody. Photo: Supplied

Tourists flee Cyclone Cody

Meanwhile, tourists who were caught in the heavy downpour caused by Tropical Cyclone Cody were receptive to advice given by the authorities, Tourism Fiji said.

In a statement, Tourism Fiji said most visitors who needed to board flights on Monday have returned home.

It said that visitors were aware of what they needed to do before boarding their return flights to Australia.

"The key thing is to allow time for their testing - to present when they need to, that is, at 48 hours when in Fiji, and up to 96 hours prior to returning to Australia.

"The maximum time allowed enables the labs to process as efficiently as possible.

"Tourists did a great job of listening to and following the authority's advice during the cyclone as well."

Tourism Fiji thanked all stakeholders for working together over the past few days.

"There were so many stories of private 4WDs providing lifts, hotel staff transporting people, and members of the public assisting, even when they themselves had issues at home.

"It was quite incredible to witness. Fiji is open, we're working through and we look forward to continuing to welcome guests to our beautiful Islands."

Since 1 December, more than 70,000 visitors are booked to stay at hotels and resorts across Fiji through to the end of this month, Tourism Fiji said.

Flood waters in Sigatoka Village closes roads.
Flood waters in Sigatoka Village closes roads. Photo: Twitter / Fiji Roads Authority