Frustrated holiday-makers have been given the green light to rebook flights to Fiji after mass cancellations.
More than 130 Fiji Airways flights were cancelled for 48 hours due to a tropical cyclone raging over the South Pacific nation.
Seventy-one flights to and from Fiji – including from Australian capital cities to Nadi – on Saturday on Fiji Airways and Fiji Link were cancelled due to the category two cyclone.
Flights impacted include those flying between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. That’s after more than 60 flights were cancelled on Friday.
Other airlines, including Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia delayed or cancelled flights on Saturday.
“Following weather assessments, and forecast adverse conditions associated with Tropical Cyclone Sarai, a number of Fiji Link and Fiji Airways services for Friday 27 December 2019 and Saturday 28 December 2019, are affected,” the Fijian carrier’s website states.
“Fiji Airways apologises for any inconvenience caused to travel plans of, and reiterates that safety is always the airline’s highest priority.” Australian authorities had warned travellers that the cyclone was to hit on Friday.
“Tropical Cyclone Sarai is expected to make landfall in Fiji on 27 December. Anticipate high winds, flooding, and storm surges,” the SmartTraveller website reads on Saturday.
“Stay in touch with friends and family, monitor local media for updates, and follow the advice of local authorities.”
Nearly 2000 people took refuge in emergency shelters and one man was missing after being swept away in floodwaters as Tropical Cyclone Sarai pounded Fiji on Saturday causing widespread damage.
National Disaster Management Office Director Vasiti Soko urged locals and the thousands of tourists in Fiji not to be reckless as Sarai lashed the Pacific island nation with heavy rain and destructive winds.
With wind gusts strengthening to 150 kilometres per hour during the day, Sarai destroyed houses and crops, brought down trees, cut power and caused considerable flooding in low-lying areas.
Thousands of holidaymakers were stranded with flights to and from Fiji either cancelled or rescheduled.
New Zealander Melonie Sheppard, who was holidaying on Mana Island to the west of mainland Fiji, described the situation as “scary” and said their resort was in lockdown.
“We’re being hammered by intense winds and horizontal rains. The resort is providing packed meals and water direct to rooms when they can,” she told the New Zealand Herald.
“Wind is howling and tree debris flying about, doors and windows shaking, huge waves rolling into shore. Water now leaking into some rooms — it’s a bit scary at times.” The Fiji government issued a statement warning of “destructive force winds with… coastal sea flooding to be expected.” The National Disaster Management Office said as of mid-morning on Saturday, 1970 people had sought emergency shelter and there had been no reports of any injuries.
However, there were fears for the safety of a man swept away as he tried to cross a flooded river while another man, reported missing at sea, was rescued in his fibreglass dinghy by police.
Acting police commissioner Rusiate Tudravu said it was disappointing that some people had disregarded the weather warnings.
“People themselves are irresponsible … we issued a warning prior to the cyclone through the relevant authorities, yet people saw it fit for themselves during the cyclone to take such irresponsible actions,” he said.
On its present track, the cyclone is forecast to pass adjacent to Fiji’s main island Viti Levu, then across Fiji’s southern islands before heading towards Tonga, which has activated its tropical cyclone warning centre with the storm expected to arrive late Sunday.