Cyclone Winston destroys entire villages in Fiji: reports

The storm hit Fiji late on Saturday, having changed direction at the last minute to spare the capital Suva the full force of its winds.

The country has declared a state of emergency

People are splashed by a wave whipped up by the encroaching cyclone in Labasa, Fiji, on Saturday. (Luke Rawalai/Fiji Times via AP)

Residents of Fiji were beginning to clean up and assess the damage Sunday after a ferocious cyclone tore through the Pacific island chain overnight and killed at least one person.

Officials said they were trying to establish communications and road access to the hardest-hit areas, and wouldn't know the full extent of the damage and injuries until then. A curfew was extended through Sunday and police empowered to make arrests without a warrant.

Cyclone Winston hit Fiji with wind speeds estimated at up to 285 km/h. It destroyed hundreds of homes and shredded crops. The worst affected areas were along the northern coast of the main island, Viti Levu.

The government in Fiji has declared a state of natural disaster for 30 days, giving extra powers to police to arrest people without a warrant in the interest of public safety. Here, a tree blocks a road just northeast of the capital, Suva, on Saturday. (Jonacani Lalakobau/Fiji Times via AP)

George Dregaso, a shift leader at Fiji's National Disaster Management Office, said one man on Koro Island was killed during the cyclone. He said another person on the west of Viti Levu had been hospitalized after being hit by flying debris.

He said about 80 per cent of the nation's 900,000 people were without regular power, although about one-third of those were able to get some power from generators. He said landlines throughout Fiji were down, but most mobile networks were working.

Dregaso said there were 483 people who had evacuated from their homes and were staying in 32 emergency shelters. He said he expected the number of evacuees to rise.

Authorities were urging people to remain indoors as they cleared fallen trees and power lines. They said all schools would be closed for a week to allow time for the cleanup.

A nationwide curfew was extended through Sunday and the government declared a 30-day state of natural disaster, giving extra powers to police to arrest people without a warrant in the interest of public safety.

This Feb. 19, 2016, satellite image released by NASA Goddard Rapid Response shows Cyclone Winston in the South Pacific Ocean. (NASA Goddard Rapid Response/NOAA via Associated Press)

After moving westward overnight along the northern coast of Viti Levu, the cyclone continued out to sea. Fiji's capital, Suva, located in the southern part of the island, was not directly in the cyclone's path and avoided the worst of its destructive power.

"Truth be told, we've gotten off pretty lightly here in the capital," said Alice Clements, a spokeswoman for UNICEF. "It was still a pretty awful night. You could hear crashing trees and power lines, and popping rivets as roofs got lifted and ripped out."

She said there was foliage everywhere, which looks like it has been put through a blender.

Many lost homes

Clements said there was concern for the people on the northern part of the main island and smaller islands elsewhere. She said many would have lost their homes and livelihoods, and some tourist resorts on the outer islands may have suffered damage.

The Fijian government is responding quickly by clearing vital roads, she said.

The airport reopened Sunday to allow emergency flights, Dregaso said, after many flights had been cancelled the day before.

"As a nation, we are facing an ordeal of the most grievous kind," Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama wrote on social media. "We must stick together as a people and look after each other."


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