Fiji cleans up after devastating floods

In Asia, Floods & Storms, News Headlines

In the news cycle today’s rooster quickly becomes tomorrow’s feather duster. Fiji is no longer in the headlines, but a fortnight ago when it was swamped with water it was.

In the past when I have returned from covering a story on a Pacific Island, at least one of my friends has inquired with much cheek about the quality of the cocktails.

They don’t believe me when I tell them in this job there’s no time for lounging by the pool.
But when I got back from Fiji a few weeks ago, no-one made any jokes.
The footage of Fijians wading around in waist deep floodwaters trying to salvage what little possessions they had left said it all really.
Most of those killed were local children. Some were swept away as they stood on their verandas watching the water rise. Some bodies have never been found.
Flooding in Fiji happens regularly, but this time a large number of tourists were caught up in the disaster and couldn’t get flights out.
Floods are big news, but for us, stranded Aussies make it even bigger news.
When I got back to Auckland quite a few people told me the Australian tourists in my reports came across as whingers and they shouldn’t have taken a cheap holiday in a cyclone season.
But I think that’s a bit unfair. The Australians I interviewed appreciated that their losses were minuscule compared to Fijians. They just wanted more information.
Some families said they left dozens of messages at the Department of Foreign Affairs, but no-one bothered to call them back. They all said if this was the sort of response you get, they would hate to be in real trouble overseas.
I’ve reported on bad floods before. Years ago I spent a waterlogged week with a cameraman named Bruce Black when the Queensland city of Mackay went under.
In Fiji I encountered the usual problems; it was difficult to get around on the damaged roads and heavy rain is bad news for camera equipment and my little audio recorder.
But this wasn’t my main challenge. I’d been to Nadi before, so I could easily judge the extent of the damage.
I got such a shock when I walked down the main street and there was nothing left of a shop I’d visited six months earlier.
I started filing stories on what I could see. But then I started getting calls from resort owners in Fiji who were telling me my stories were putting Australians off from visiting and that dozens of people had cancelled their holidays.
I had to explain very politely that my job is to report what I see and there was a lot of interest about what the long-term impact was going to be on Fijians.
I told one resort manager, who was a New Zealander, that holidaymakers might also have been put off after reading the severe weather warnings.
Fijians made my job much easier – they’re happy to talk to the media even at the worst of times.
The chairman of Fiji’s canegrowers association Bala Dass was desperate to get the message out about the extent of the damage to cane crops.
We met by the side of the road about half an hour’s drive out of Nadi. Even in the middle of a natural disaster he still had a huge smile on his face.
He also seemed to know the entire population of Nadi and all the way back into town he was on his mobile phone ringing up people for me to interview.
When the weather began to improve I left Fiji in a big hurry; I had to get back to Auckland to go to a friend’s wedding.
I missed the service but arrived in time for the speeches at the reception and I thought, “how lucky am I”.
The Fijians who lost family members and their homes have nothing to celebrate at the moment. It’s been an awful start to a new year for them; I really hope things improve.

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