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. Cyclone batters Fiji island: officials

by Staff Writers
Suva (AFP) Dec 8, 2007
A devastating cyclone flattened much of the tiny Fiji island of Cikobia on Saturday with most houses and vegetation destroyed, but its 69 villagers survived by hiding in caves, officials said.

Communications to the remote island on Fiji's northeastern border were knocked out in the storm but a brief radio telephone message confirmed all the villagers had been accounted for.

They were able to flee their homes before Cyclone Daman made a direct hit about 3:00 am (1530 GMT Friday) and took shelter in caves on the island.

The full extent of the damage to Cikobia is unlikely to be known until Sunday after initial attempts to conduct an aerial survey were aborted because of continuing poor weather.

Relief officials said a boat carrying supplies of medicine, food and tarpaulins would leave for the island late Saturday and another attempt to send in a helicopter would be made at first light on Sunday.

Initial reports indicated there had been casualties.

But a nurse on Cikobia was able to get a message to Labasa Hospital on Vanua Levu island to confirm there were no serious injuries, although houses and vegetation had been destroyed, said the hospital superintendent, Ami Chand.

As Daman, packing hurricane-force winds of up to 260 kilometres an hour, bore down on Fiji on Friday, residents were forced to take shelter and tourists were evacuated from expensive resorts on outlying islands.

The storm, a category four on a five-point scale, was initially heading for Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island, before veering away and making a direct hit on Cikobia.

Although the worst of the storm was considered to have passed by dawn Saturday, residents across Fiji were warned of possible flash-floods in low-lying areas and coastal flooding at high tide.

Fiji is frequently hit by tropical cyclones in the summer months and Cikobia in particular is considered a "cyclone magnet," suffering direct or near-direct hits of Cyclones Kina in 1993, Gavin in 1997 and Ami in 2003.

The Nadi weather office in Fiji said Daman was slowly moving out of the Fiji group towards Tonga and on its present path was not expected to affect any other islands in the Fiji group.

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Forecasters expect seven Atlantic hurricanes in 2008
Miami (AFP) Dec 7, 2007
Next year's Atlantic hurricane activity should be slightly higher than average, forecasters said Thursday, following a cyclonic season that was quieter than anticipated but caused devastation in central America.

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