Five dead in Fiji in wake of Cyclone Winston; clean-up begins

At least five people died during the weekend after a severe tropical cyclone left a trail of destruction through the South Pacific island nation of Fiji, according to media reports Sunday.

Cyclone Winston packed an average wind speed of 205 kilometres per hour (km/h), with gusts of 285 km/h, as it passed over Fiji, qualifying it as a Category 5 storm - the strongest rating - the Fiji meteorological service said.

It was the strongest cyclone in Fijian history.

The archipelago of 300 islands has been declared a disaster area by local authorities, though few specifics about damage have been made available. Nonetheless, many aid groups fear the worst.

“The situation in Fiji is critical and will be for some time. The island nation has never been hit by a storm like this before, and will need a lot of help to recover,” Iris Low-McKenzie of Save the Children said on the organization's website.

Jone Tuiipelehaki of the United Nations Development Programme also noted that the damage might be severe.

"Some villages have reported that all homes have been destroyed," he tweeted.

Residents have been without electricity for more than 24 hours. The risk of heavy rains and floods continued as the leading edge of the storm moved away from the islands Sunday.

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

More than 1,000 people were in shelters on the second-largest island of Vanua Levu, the Fiji Broadcasting Company said.

New Zealand has military personnel on the way to help assess the situation.

Local forces were already at work Sunday leading clean-up efforts. Efforts focused on trees and power lines down throughout the islands, but there were reports of many houses damaged or destroyed.

The roads leading to the country's international airport were blocked by hip-deep water. Flights in and out of the country have been cancelled through Monday.

"Some villages have reported that all homes have been destroyed," United Nations Development Program spokesman Jone Tuiipelehaki tweeted.

An elderly man died when a roof fell on him, officials said.

The government imposed a 6 pm curfew and residents were hunkered down in their homes or in 700 emergency shelters across the island chain with 900,000 inhabitants.

The cyclone is now headed westwards, towards the island chain of Vanuatu, which was devastated by Cyclone Pam a year ago. However, meteorologists say they expect Winston to tack to the south and avoid Vanuatu.

Last update: Sun, 21/02/2016 - 10:55
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