Packing winds of 180 mph, Winston is the strongest storm to hit the island
Suva: A category five super-storm hit the Pacific island nation on Saturday, with international flights cancelled and evacuation centres activated. Tropical Cyclone Winston was packing winds of 180 mph with gusts over 220 mph.
People are splashed by a wave whipped up by the cyclone in Labasa.
“As a nation, we are facing an ordeal of the most grievous kind,” said the Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama in a national address. “We must stick together as a people and look after each other. Be alert and be prepared,” he added.
Severe tropical cylone Winston, with average winds of 220 kilometres (136 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 315 kilometres per hour, was forecast to hit the main island Viti Levu overnight on Saturday, according to the Fiji meteorological office.
Locals gather at a market to prepare for cyclone Winston. Pic/AFP
The storm brushed by the more northerly island of Vanua Levu on Saturday afternoon, with unconfirmed reports of trees felled and roofs blown off houses. “I’ve never seen such a strong cyclone in 60 years. This is a monster cyclone. We’re all very scared and hope it goes away quickly,” said Zalim Hussein, a local resident. National Disaster Management director Akapusi Tuifagalele said that 758 evacuation centres had been prepared in the nation of about 900,000.
The government imposed a nation-wide curfew on Saturday night, with Bainimarama saying conditions would be too dangerous for residents to venture outside.
Winston has been moving around the South Pacific for a week, skirting around Vanuatu and Tonga and has previously taken aim at Fiji before veering away.
Cyclones are common in the South Pacific and their impact is notoriously difficult to predict, with major storms capable of causing major devastation but sometimes blowing themselves out with relatively little damage.
The UN humanitarian agency UNOCHA said it was ready to support the disaster management office if required. Winston had the potential to bring “destructive winds, heavy rains, dangerous storm surge and a high risk of both flash,” UNOCHA said in a statemen.