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Fiji Faces Chaos as Cyclone Threatens to Worsen Flooding

Fiji, an island chain in the South Pacific, is battling heavy flooding that’s caused fatalities and may be exacerbated by a tropical cyclone that formed today.

“There are thousands of people in evacuation shelters, many of whom had to leave their homes quickly,” the government said in a statement on its website today. “Combined with the fact that electricity is out in many areas, inhibiting communications, this all leads to confusion. Debris exists below the surface and currents are very strong.”

Tropical Cyclone Daphne was about 550 kilometers (342 miles) west-southwest of Nadi at 1 p.m. local time, moving southeast at about 35 kilometers an hour, according to a Fiji Meteorological Service bulletin issued at 4 p.m. today. An alert is in effect for all of Fiji, with severe flood warnings in force for all major rivers, streams and low lying areas of Viti Levu, the service said.

About 2,000 Australians, many of them tourists, have been stranded in the country, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said in a statement today. More than 400 New Zealanders are registered as being in Fiji, Prime Minister John Key said.

“Its obviously a serious situation,” Key told reporters at a news conference in Wellington today. “We haven’t been formally asked for support but New Zealand stands ready to give that support.”

Cyclone Season

Fiji is a 332-island archipelago located in the South Pacific Ocean, 3,240 kilometers northeast of Australia. The cyclone season in the South Pacific region runs from November to April and storms sometimes cause flooding and landslides.

The Fijian government has lifted the embargo for carrying inbound passengers into the country, it said in a 3:43 p.m. statement.

Air New Zealand Ltd. is flying two empty aircraft to Nadi international airport today to “pick up as many stranded passengers as possible, weather permitting,” it said in a statement.

Qantas Airways Ltd. has offered aircraft to fly Australians home from Fiji, Carr said. Australia will offer financial and medical assistance, he said.

“The floods have caused several deaths and damaged homes and other infrastructure,” Carr said.

“The government’s focus for the next 24 hours continues to be the safety and security of all Fijians including visitors stranded in Fiji,” the Fijian government said in a statement.

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