Stranded sister in Fiji misses whānau milestone

updated By Tepara Koti

Fiji braces as Cyclone Sarai moves past the West Coast with 130 km/hr winds.  The Category 2 cyclone has claimed two lives with more than 2000 people who have been evacuated to emergency shelters.

Ngāi Tūhoe descendant Shannon Waaka has been stuck in Fiji for the last three days and is desperately trying to get home.

"We got to the airport, unloaded all our stuff and as we got to the counter we obviously realised there was nobody there," says Shannon.

The empty counter came as a surprise as Shannon and her partner had dropped off a relative earlier that morning whose flight hadn't been cancelled or delayed.

Cyclone Sarai has claimed two lives - an 18-year-old student who was swimming off Kadavu Island and a man who was swept away while attempting to cross a flooded road in Vunidawa.

Shannon says for her first time to Fiji, and not knowing it was 'cyclone season', the ordeal was terrifying. She also says, unfortunately, the lack of assistance didn't help.

Today an Air NZ spokesperson has told Te Ao that extra flights have been organised to help stranded passengers. They have also apologised to this particular whānau and say they may be able to get home sooner.

In a statement, they said:

"Tropical Cyclone Sarai has caused disruption to airlines flying to and from Fiji, including Air New Zealand. The cyclone is now tracking away from Fiji and flights are operating, including two additional services (one yesterday and one today) that we have added to help passengers whose flights were cancelled.

"Details of the impact of Tropical Cyclone Sarai has been regularly updated on the ‘Travel Alerts’ section of our website. Information on rebooking for our customers and the flexibility we are offering can also be found through this page and we encourage customers to keep an eye on this for updates.

"We apologise for the inconvenience caused to the customer ... and would encourage them to call the Air NZ contact centre who are best placed to discuss their situation."

Air New Zealand also confirmed that since Friday 27 December, three return services from Akl to Nadi were cancelled, and some were delayed.

Shannon and her whānau are currently sitting safely in Suva but the disastrous weather meant they have missed out on an important milestone back home.

Shannon was supposed to be a bridesmaid for her only sister, Black Fern Stacey Waaka, on Sunday 29 December, and while she was able to view the wedding via videocall, she says not being present was heartbreaking.

In a loving message home, Shannon says she "can't apologise enough for not being there for her 'cos obviously she's my only sister and I'm the oldest in our family and I wasn't there to help her celebrate such a special day."

She adds, "She (Stacey) understands and we've spoken and I congratulated her and her new husband now, and their day was just so amazing. I just can't wait to get back to celebrate with them!"

Shannon's whānau in Aotearoa, including her three older children, eagerly await their safe return from Fiji which is hopefully this Friday.

Weather services say Cyclone Sarai is expected to hit Tonga by New Year's Day.