Cyclone Winston: Storm slams Fiji, one confirmed dead
Cyclone Winston has moved west of Fiji, with daylight to reveal the extent of damage after the Pacific island nation took a battering.
Fiji was slammed by the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere on Saturday and early Sunday.
One person is dead, and residents are under curfew as winds of up to 325kmh pummel the island nation.
The Fiji Broadcasting Corporation (FBC) confirmed an elderly man of Nabasovi, Koro Island, became the first victim of Winston.
DISMAC officer on duty, Vatia Vasuca, told FBC the man died after a roof top fell on him. Vasuca said only one life has been lost so far.
Twenty four houses and a church at Nabasovi village on Koro have been badly damaged, FBC reported..
Head of Nabasovi District School, Taura Vosayaco, told FBC News all people were now being sheltered in one of the classrooms in the school and another house, which was not damaged.
Vosayaco said the school dining hall was also destroyed and a shed for the school generator. The weather is now calm at Nabasovi as the eye of Winston moved in.
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Winston, still a Category 5 system, is slowly moving away from Fiji. At 1am local time, it was located about 95km west-northwest of Nadi.
Fiji Meteorology Office forecaster Amit Singh said the system was moving west at about 25kph and was expected to move in that direction for the next 12-18 hours before it takes the southeast turn, FBC reported.
He said the worst was over for Fiji and winds easing in most places, although heavy rain remained.
For western Viti Levu, the main island, the gale force wind warning currently in place was expected to ease in the next few hours, Singh said.
However, rain would continue in the western division until early next week as the wind remains west-northwest, with flooding around Fiji becoming an issue.
There were no reports on serious injury in Nausori, near Suva on Vitu Levu, but flooding, damage to houses and power poles had occurred in Savusavu, on Vanua Levu, while a bus was reported to have been washed inland by big tidal waves.
After twice hammering outlying islands in nearby Tonga last week, Cyclone Winston re-intensified on Saturday and began to track west towards Suva, the capital of Fiji, packing winds of 230kmh, with gusts of up to 325kmh.
The Fijian government has declared a state of natural disaster for the next 30 days.
Hours before the storm hit land, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama warned the nation is facing an ordeal "of the most grievous kind" as tropical Cyclone Winston begins to batter the country.
He urged Fijians to prepare themselves for a "terrible event".
Forecasters were predicting that Nadi could take a direct hit from the cyclone in the next few hours.
Fijian-born Lizann Vailasi was due to fly home to Sydney on Sunday.
But instead she's hunkered down with her brother and his family at Pacific Harbour, south-west of Suva.
She was mostly worried about her fellow Fijians sheltering in small towns as they wait for the worst of the wind and rain hit.
"There are thousands worse off. Fingers crossed and God willing."
We will be forever grateful and hold a special place in our hearts for these guys, the Spanish Men's Rugby Sevens team.They are in a training camp at Uprising for 3 weeks as they attempt to qualify for core team status in on the World Rugby Sevens Series in Hong Kong. They dropped everything without hesitation to assist us as the ocean swells took charge of our waterfront late this afternoon. We know that we will be cheering for 2 teams this year in Hong Kong, our beloved Fiji and our brothers from Spain! Gracias Amigos!Posted by Uprising Fiji on Saturday, 20 February 2016
A number of airlines, including Air New Zealand, have stopped flying to Fiji until the weather clears.
POWER OUTAGES ACROSS FIJI
Fiji's Red Cross reported power outages across most of Fiji, including in the captial city of Suva.
About 9.30pm, the eye of the cyclone made landfall over the north coast of Viti Levu, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported.
The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Winston was following a path that might spare Suva the full force of its winds, rated as category 5, the highest ranking on the hurricane wind scale.
"The cyclone has tracked further north than expected over the past 24 hours," the UN agency said.
It was possible Suva may only be hit by 150kmh winds.
Roads with trees and powerlines covering them are closed and the Fijian Government says they will not be cleared and water supplies will not be re-established until the storm passes.
KIWIS ON THE GROUND
New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said 186 Kiwis had registered on its SafeTravel website as being in Fiji. It urged any Kiwis in the country to register on the website.
However, as the cyclone made landfall shortly after 8.30pm, NZ time, New Zealanders in Fiji reported flickering electricity and outages to internet.
Leanne Goff lives on Denarau Island and at 10pm said the cyclone was "really picking up now".
"Even if I wanted to I wouldn't be able to stand up outside. Between the wind and the torrential rain it sounds like a freight train outside. Latest report is the eye is supposed to hit us 3am, which feels like very long time away. That's hours and hours of sustained battering."
Tonight, the Hurricanes rugby team posted a message to its Facebook page, urging its Fijian supporters to stay safe.
"To all our friends from Fiji, the biggest ever storm ever in the Southern Hemisphere to looking you right in the eye. Please take cover and look after each other as this Cat 5 storm hits. From everyone at the Hurricanes and on behalf of NZ Kia kaha."
The post has received hundreds of comments, many from those in Fiji sheltering from tropical cyclone Winston.
"Wind getting strong here in Nadi as well, and not feeling good knowing it's only gonna get worse," said Andrew Kang.
Samy Lutumailagi posted "We getting pounded right now. Neva seen this before. It's brutal man!"
Mark Wagner, a leadership coach visiting Fiji for a workshop, said winds were starting to pick up in Suva.
"[I have] never been in a cyclone before - this may not make sense but the wind actually sounds angry," he said.
Arti Singh reported his family's neighbours in Suva had lost their roof as the wind gathered pace.
Marijke Braaksma said her family, based in Nadi, had lost power.
Caroline Gray said the noise at the Pearl Resort was deafening. "I really feel for the locals, many of whom are spending the night in poorly constructed buildings."
Tourists on the island of Naukacacuvu had to endure a rough three-hour ferry ride after being evacuated Saturday afternoon, but made it to Nadi before nightfall, and before Winston's full force hit.
The Fiji Met Service said the cyclone was expected to maintain its category five intensity - the most severe category of cyclone - as it tracked west over the centre of Fiji's main island of Viti Levu.
The Island has a population of 650,000.
Some Fijian towns had reportedly gone into virtual lock-down in preparation for the cyclone, and public transport had already been put on hold in many areas.
Bainimarama urged locals to finalise their own preparations, to stick together and look after each other.
"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. Be alert and be prepared," he said on the official Fiji Government Facebook page.
"I urge you all, if you haven't already done so, to finalise your own preparations to survive this terrible event. We cannot afford to be complacent.
"Make sure you have adequate food and water, flashlights, candles and lanterns in case the power supply is disrupted and a battery operated radio to keep abreast of news of Cyclone Winston's progress.
"I urge you to seek shelter where you are most likely to be safe and our officials can assist you."
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Unicef spokeswoman Alice Clements is based in Suva, along with about 50 other Unicef workers who have been working closely with the Fijian Government to help people prepare.
She said on Saturday morning that winds were already picking up, but her team were on track to be prepared for the storm when it hit later on Saturday.
"It's being taken pretty seriously over here - it's not a happy prospect as we know the effect a category five cyclone can have on a community."
The Ministry of Education had trained a group of teachers in how to help others respond to the storm, and Clements said it would be good to see these new skills put to use.
Clements said the eye of the storm was expected to hit around midnight on Saturday.