Evacuation centres not ready, response slow

NO water, no food and no assistance for infants, young children and the elderly.

This was the scene at St Andrews Primary School, Nadi, yesterday.

More than 500 people sought shelter there early Sunday morning after the Nawaka and Namotomoto rivers broke their banks.

Between the hours of 5am to 8am, residents of Nawaka Village and Nawajikuma and Nawaka tramline settlements waded through waist deep fast-flowing floodwater to seek shelter at St Andrews.

However, when they got to the school, the gates were locked.

The evacuees said they had no option but to climb over and enter the school.

“They had nowhere else to go and they only know St Andrews, it’s a safe place for them,” said Litia Taylor, a Nawaka resident and community liaison.

When The Fiji Times arrived at the school yesterday morning, the number of evacuees had reduced to 275.

“When evacuees arrived here, the school had not been informed that it was to open as an evacuation centre.

“We had people sitting in the veranda, many of them were shivering because they were wet from the floodwaters and we had mothers with young children who had no warm clothes or food.

“The classrooms were opened up about 11am.

“I have assisted government teams that visit St Andrews during past disasters and this has got to be the worst situation we have ever faced.

“There was no drinking water and whatever was coming out of the taps was brown and dirty.

“What was very disappointing is that no one from the District Officer Nadi’s office has visited the school to see what the needs are.”

When contacted yesterday morning, acting DO Nadi Faiyaz Ali said he was in Nausori and was making his way to Nadi.

Mr Ali said his team was on the ground and conducting assessments of all evacuation centres in Nadi.

St Andrews Primary School committee president Mohammed Sattar said he had not been officially asked if the school could be used as an evacuation centre.

“Yesterday (Sunday) at 10am I got a call from a teacher in our school who asked if I could open the school for evacuees,” he said.

“The teacher said Divisional Education Officer Mr Gavidi had spoken to her and said people were already in the verandas.

“Nobody called me so they shouldn’t blame the school for not being open and ready to receive them.”

Similar reports were received from evacuees at other centres.

NDMO director Anare Leweniqila said a taskforce made up of skeleton staff had been activated as of last week Friday.

“The National Emergency Operations Centre was activated yesterday morning at 8am,” he said.

“That was when we brought together all key agencies like the Fiji Police Force, the National Fire Authority, Ministry of Health and all the others.”

Mr Leweniqila said the post-disaster operations were being handled by the Commissioner Western’s Office.

Meanwhile, the Fiji Labour Party has called on Government to send medical teams to evacuation centres and flood-stricken areas.

“These places are powder-kegs for diseases like meningococcal and there have been no medical staff seen in any of these places,”claimed FLP’s Aman Ravindra-Singh.

The National Federation Party issued a statement yesterday calling on Government to declare a state of natural disaster for flood-stricken areas in the Western Division.

“It is clear from reports and initial assessments done by NFP teams comprising stalwarts, national and branch executives and provisional candidates, as well as from media reports of widespread destruction and severe damage,” said Professor Biman Prasad.

The NFP leader said Government should have learnt from Severe TC Winston and the widespread flash floods that hit the West and the North a month after the Category 5 storm.

“Government should be in a state of disaster preparedness in terms of equipping evacuation centres with essentials and food items as priority number one.”

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