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Five people are reported dead, three boys are missing and thousands of tourists remain stranded in Fiji after Tropical Cyclone Daphne passed the South Pacific nation yesterday, bringing heavy rain and strong winds.
The cyclone centre was forecast to remain about 500 kilometres south-west of Nadi, on the main island of Viti Levu, but "damaging gale force winds" and floods were expected in parts of the country, the Fiji Meteorological Service said yesterday.
Fiji's permanent secretary of information, Sharon Smith Johns, told Radio New Zealand International last night "the wind and the rain have been nowhere near what we expected".
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said the cyclone was moving away from the Fijian islands and rain and winds were expected to ease this evening, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) spokesman said this morning.
A three-year-old boy died in a flooded creek yesterday afternoon, while the three missing boys have not been seen since leaving Volivoli, on the northern tip of Viti Levu, a week ago, a Fiji Ministry of Information spokesman told Radio New Zealand, Fairfax NZ reported.
A state of emergency is in force in Fiji and about 8000 people were taking shelter at evacuation centres, Agence France-Presse reported.
Australian aid on the way
The Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, has announced $1 million worth of emergency aid for Fiji for the worst-affected areas in the Western and Central Divisions.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said his country would send aid if Fiji requested for it.
Tourists staying in Fiji's popular resorts have been forced to contend with limited services as they waited for floods to recede enough to get to the airport, where they faced chaotic scenes.
"The information we've been given has been terrible. They say flights are on but you turn up and they've been cancelled," Dorothy May Pechalaiya, whose flight back to London was delayed from Sunday until at least today, told AFP.
Virgin Australia said it had two flights, Sydney-Nadi and Brisbane-Nadi, that were travelling between Australia and Fiji today. Its Melbourne-Nadi flights were cancelled, the airline said. Virgin urged its passengers to contact their hotels and resorts to confirm if they were still open for business.
Jetstar was not operating any flights into Fiji today and has one scheduled Sydney-Fiji flight tomorrow.
Air Pacific, Fiji's national airline, said it was planning to run flights in and out of Nadi to Australia, New Zealand, Samoa and the United States, subject to weather conditions.
Qantas, which does not fly to the country, said yesterday it offered to provide relief flights to Fiji but had not yet received a formal request from the DFAT.
A DFAT spokesman said hundreds of Australian tourists left Nadi yesterday and hundreds more were expected to fly out of Fiji today.
Airlines were working to reinstate their flights and there were three DFAT officials stationed at Nadi Airport to assist Australians, he said, adding that two more staff were expected to join them today.
Australian tourist Alana Nixon, who is in Fiji for her honeymoon and is staying at the Hilton Hotel, said her Air Pacific flight this morning was put back to 3.20pm.
She said there were strong winds and heavy rains last night but that the weather conditions this morning had improved and there was even a little sunshine. There was now running water at the resort and a stable supply of food and electricity, she said.
Melanie Pennell, an Australian staying at the Shangri-La, said staff at the hotel have been amazing.
"[They've been] looking after us with smiles on their faces despite the personal devastation they are all facing, many having lost their homes and all their belongings."
with Fairfax NZ and AFP