At least two people were killed and an unknown number of houses and buildings were destroyed when Category 5 cyclone Yasa swept through Fiji’s second largest island, Vanua Levu, on Thursday night.
As of Friday morning, the full extent of the damage had not yet been revealed, as many parts of the affected island remained without communications and were cut off by flooding.
Fears remained that an imminent high tide would cause storm surge and more flooding in coastal areas.
A man was killed when the house he was taking refuge in collapsed on him, the Fiji state broadcaster reported.
More deaths were averted by a declaration of a state of emergency and a nationwide curfew, with the entire country ordered inside for 14 hours on Thursday night.
The government had estimated that 850,000 people, 95% of Fiji’s population, would be directly affected by the cyclone.
The national disaster management office said 23,479 people sought refuge in 457 evacuation centers overnight from Thursday to Friday morning, and thousands more took refuge in caves and church halls.
“Twenty houses and a community room totally destroyed by tropical cyclone Yasa in Tiliva in Bua (province) on Vanua Levu island,” Josephine Prasad said on Facebook.
“There are no reported victims only injured so far. Everyone is grateful for the gift of life, but they need urgent medical and food supplies. Most just keep their clothes on and take shelter under their houses only to be inundated by the rising waters that washed away most of the livestock while our Fijian families clung to everything they could find. “
The Director General of the Fiji Red Cross Society, Ilisapeci Rokotunidau, said his organization remained “concerned for the safety of thousands of people who have suffered the brunt of this monstrous storm.”
Initial reports from the volunteers reveal destruction in Bua, a province on the island of Vanua Levu. The coastal areas of many islands have been affected by storm surge and flooding at the height of the storm.
“Our teams report that houses and community buildings have been destroyed and crops razed. There are widespread power outages in the affected areas, ”Rokotunidau said.
“Trained Red Cross volunteers living in these same communities are responding to provide first aid and relief and update the national office emergency center on needs.”
Fiji’s response to Yasa will be further complicated by the global Covid-19 pandemic. Fiji has 11 active Covid-19 cases in border quarantine.
The cyclone is another blow to the economy of the tourism-dependent country, already devastated by pandemic strikes that have caused tens of thousands of lost jobs. Fiji’s economy has contracted more than 20% this year due to the pandemic.
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, an outspoken advocate on behalf of the Pacific for greater global action on climate change, noted that Yasa struck 12 years after the day Cyclone Evan struck Fiji. He has consistently argued that climate change is making cyclones more frequent and intense across the Pacific.
“Since then, we have been hit by 12 more cyclones, two of which, Winston and Yasa, are now competing for the strongest storm in the history of our hemisphere.
“This is not normal. This is a climate emergency,” he said.
Weather data shows that cyclones are becoming more intense and frequent across the Pacific. In some cases, the islands have barely recovered from one cyclone before another hits. Once rare, two Category 5 cyclones have struck Fiji this year.
After passing over Vanua Levu, Cyclone Yasa was downgraded to Category 4 and then Category 3, but winds are still up to 275 km / h.
And Tonga has now issued a cyclone warning for Yasa with forecasts showing it will remain close to its islands over the weekend.
Meanwhile, in Samoa, a separate tropical cyclone, Zazu, has caused widespread flooding in the capital, Apia.
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