World News

Storm-hit Fiji declares state of emergency

SUVA (Reuters) - Fiji declared a state of emergency and curfews after severe storms and flooding struck the Pacific island nation, sweeping away up to seven people and forcing thousands to evacuate homes, local media said Monday.

Interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama declared a state of emergency at the weekend and curfews were imposed in some areas to prevent looting after days of heavy rains in the country’s west, said Minister of Defense and National Security Ratu Epeli.

“It is basically to safeguard lives and property. We want to prevent criminal elements from taking advantage of the flood hit areas,” Epeli told the Fijilive website Monday, adding dusk to dawn curfews were in place in Ba, Nadi and Sigatoka towns.

Police rescue teams were forced to pluck people to safety to rooftops in some areas as floodwaters up to 3 meters (10 ft) deep struck some areas, the Fiji Times newspaper said.

One boy was confirmed dead and several others were missing, including two young girls. More bad weather caused by seasonal storms were also forecast in coming days.

Hundreds of foreign tourists had been stranded in resorts, with flights disrupted in some airports and roads shut, while up to 9,400 local people had been forced to evacuate to makeshift emergency centers, the National Disaster Management Office said.

“A lot of the restaurants are shut. They’ve run out of food,” New Zealand tourist Nigel Lagdon told TVNZ television.

Floodwaters had begun to recede Monday in the northwestern towns of the main Viti Levu island, although some areas remained inaccessible, Fijilive said.

Fiji’s Works Ministry said the region now faced a health risk as people may drink water contaminated by flooding, while in other regions crops had been destroyed as rivers burst their banks to cause the worst flooding in more than a decade.

Writing by Rob Taylor, editing by Michael Perry