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Bad start to 2018

Felix Chaudhary And Shayal Devi
Tuesday, January 16, 2018

CHILDREN in parts of the Western Division were kept away from classes on the first day of the 2018 school year.

Bus services were scaled down and families were forced to flee their homes in panic after heavy downpours caused riverbanks to break, sending floodwaters gushing through business districts, villages and municipal markets.

While the Fiji Meteorological Service had issued heavy rain and flash flooding warnings well in advance, residents in Tavua claimed the warnings did not prepare them for the intensity of the floodwaters.

Tavua resident Emele Tulo said she was preparing dinner inside the family home situated near the banks of the Tavua River at about 6pm when her six-year-old daughter Susan Emele raised the alarm.

"She screamed out to me that something was wrong with the river and when I looked out I was in shock," the 48-year-old mother-of-three said.

"Just before I began making dinner, the river was a bit higher than normal, but within a few minutes, it had risen even higher and was flowing very fast, I knew I had to move my family quickly."

She called out to her husband Kaminieli Tora and grabbed her three-month-old daughter Analaise, son Setefano Cakau, 3, and Susan, 6, and headed to Tavua District School.

"We just thank God that we got out in time and we also want to know why no warnings were given for people to move to higher ground like they used to do before.

"We didn't have time to prepare our things or to take food with us and we have lost most of our belongings."

Business owners in Rakiraki said the poor state of the Rakiraki River combined with inadequate drainage had contributed to flooding in the central business district area and municipal market on Sunday.

Rakiraki Chamber of Commerce president George Shiu Raj said business owners were losing money because the flooding issue was not being taken seriously.

"The river needs to be dredged and drainage needs to be really looked at," he said.

"During the last big floods in Christmas 2016, businesses lost about $250,000 in damaged stock alone and we cannot keep having a repeat of this issue, something needs to be done about this."

Parents kept their children at home as a safety precaution and this was reflected in attendance figures with only two out of the 250 students turning up for classes at Rakiraki Methodist School.

An official at the school said flooding over parts of Rakiraki and in the Naqoro Flats had resulted in buses standing down services.

When contacted, the Flying Prince Transport Company said flooding had damaged roads and bridges resulting in services being halted to most parts of Rakiraki.

Market vendors in Ba said they were caught by surprise when flood waters laden with debris and sludge swept through the municipal market on Sunday evening.

Francis Raj, owner of a fast food outlet inside the market, said everyone was unprepared because the warnings that were issued did not convey the intensity of the floods.

"Nobody was ready because the warnings were not strong enough," he said.

"I have lost fridges and cooking equipment and vendors have lost their goods. If the warnings came like they used to before, we would have moved our stock to higher areas."

Fiji Meteorological Service director Ravind Kumar said his office had issued warnings since Thursday, informing people about the expected heavy rainfall and flash floods.

"Weather patterns are changing because of climate change and we can expect this type of weather to become more frequent and whether the weather reports are warnings or public forecasts they need to be taken seriously and people need to be prepared," he said.

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