• Battered Fiji braces for another cyclone

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    SUVA: Fiji was battening down for another tropical cyclone Wednesday, just weeks after the most powerful storm in the Pacific nation’s history left 44 people dead and crippled infrastructure.

    The Fiji Meteorological Service said Tropical Cyclone Zena formed overnight Tuesday when a depression west of the main island Vita Levu intensified.

    It said the category two cyclone, with wind gusts of up to 130 kilometres (80 miles) an hour, was gathering strength, prompting extreme weather warnings across the nation.

    Heavy rain from the weather system has already caused flash flooding on Viti Levu, with police saying a 70-year-man was confirmed dead and a 13-year old girl was missing after swollen rivers burst their banks.

    Roads have been cut by floodwaters and landslides, hampering disaster relief efforts in areas already reeling from super cyclone Winston in February.

    That storm lashed Fiji with gusts of 325 kilometres an hour, destroying 32,000 houses, 500 schools and 88 health facilities.

    The Red Cross said volunteers were ready to distribute water purification tablets, jerry cans, and tarpaulins but had to wait for the weather to clear.

    “As soon as the situation is safe, we will get out and assess the damage,” said the charity’s Viti Levu western division coordinator, Mohammed Hafiz.

    “But it could be Friday, or at worst, Saturday, before this will be possible.”

    The UN children’s organisation UNICEF said the latest emergency “could not come at a worse time for children and families in Fiji”.

    “These are the same families that were directly affected by Cyclone Winston just over a month ago,” Suva-based spokeswoman Alice Clements said.

    “Far too many are sheltering under tarpaulins, pieces of salvaged corrugated iron, in tents or again in evacuation centres.”

    The cyclone is forecast to pass within 150 kilometres of Viti Levu’s west coast early Thursday, although the path and intensity of such a storm is hard to predict. AFP

    AFP/CC

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