FLOODS IN FIJI FINALLY RECEDE AFTER LEAVING 5 DEAD
SUVA, Fiji (AP) -- Thousands of Fijians who fled surging floodwaters that have left at least five people dead started to return to their homes Tuesday after the Pacific island nation was spared a direct hit by a cyclone.
Heavy rains and wind had lashed the islands since last week, swamping homes and washing out infrastructure. But fears the situation could get worse eased Tuesday when the cyclone missed Fiji by several hundred kilometers (miles).
About 8,000 people in the northwest of the country's main island, Viti Levu, had been forced from their homes into evacuation centers, Government spokeswoman Sharon Smith Johns said. She said they were slowly returning Tuesday after the rain stopped and flood waters began to recede.
The government was working to restore vital infrastructure like bridges, electricity and fresh water supplies, she said. The top priroty was getting clean drinking water to residents.
"The flood waters are going down, but to rehabilitate everything is going to be a huge job," Smith Johns said. "We have the manpower out there, but the repairs are going to take a long time."
In the township of Ba, several water pumps were not working and about 30 percent of the 15,000 residents remained without electricity, she said.
The country's tourist areas, also on the west of Viti Levu but further south, weren't as badly affected because they tended to be more sheltered from the storms, said Elizabeth Powell, Fiji's permanent secretary for tourism.
The storms had led to flight disruptions - with around 3,000 tourists stranded - but normal service resumed Tuesday and the backlog had been cleared, Powell said.
The death toll from the flooding, which stood at five Tuesday, could still rise.
Smith Johns said there have been sometimes conflicting reports of missing people, but those are hard to verify with communication difficult and people moving in and out of temporary shelters.
She said those confirmed dead included four adults and a 3-year-old boy, who was playing near a swollen river when he drowned.
Australia's government on Monday pledged 1 million Australian dollars ($1.04 million) to help with relief efforts while New Zealand's government pledged 500,000 New Zealand dollars ($413,000).
In January, floods in the same region killed 11 people.