Cyclone Ami strikes; two children feared dead
SUVA, Fiji (AP) A cyclone battered northern Fiji on Tuesday, bringing huge waves that smashed houses, destroyed crops and left two children missing and feared dead, officials said.
Cyclone Ami packed wind gusts of up to 125 mph and sustained winds of 92 mph as it moved across the top of Vanua Levu, the country's second-biggest island, and the Lau group of 20 islands, Fiji's Tropical Cyclone Center said.
"It seems we have a disaster on our hands," said Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.
Fiji's main tourist areas in the west of Viti Levu received heavy rains and winds, but no serious damage was reported.
Two children who ran into a church for shelter on Duradura Island have been missing since the building collapsed, the South Pacific nation's Disaster Management Office said. There were no other reports of injuries.
Disaster office spokesman Alifereti Naioko said islands in the northern Lau group and northern Vanua Levu "received extensive damage, with houses smashed and ... waves hitting houses and plantations along the coastlines."
At Labasa, a town of several thousand people on Vanua Levu, torrential rains burst the banks of a river running through the town center. "It is under six feet of water," Naioko said.
Naioko said he had reports that people on the island of Layau had fled to limestone caves to escape huge waves rolling over the island. He said a New Zealand Air Force reconnaissance plane would fly Fiji disaster assessors over the regions early Wednesday.
Qarase said he would wait for confirmation of the severity of the damage before deciding whether to declare a state of emergency in the affected regions.
Rajendra Prasad, director of Fiji's cyclone center, said the storm was the worst to hit the area since 1987 when Cyclone Raja passed over the northern and eastern islands with winds of a similar force.
Cyclone Ami was expected to clear Fiji on Tuesday and move southward to pass near the main Tongan island of Tongatapu by Wednesday.
Early this month, inhabitants of the remote Solomon Islands' atolls of Tikopia and Anuta were found safe and well after Cyclone Zoe hammered the area with 220 mph winds in late December.
Copyright 2002 Associated Press.