Death Toll Rises To Ten As Fiji Cleans Up After Powerful Cyclone

The death toll has risen to at least 10 after a powerful cyclone ripped through Fiji on the weekend. Authorities are struggling to restore electricity and other basic services in the aftermath of the powerful cyclone that made landfall on Saturday on the island nation.

Hundreds of homes were destroyed, and some reports say entire villages were wiped out by the Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston. The powerful cyclone brought very strong winds and has resulted in widespread flooding.

Details are often scarce, but so far, the dead include two drowning victims, four people who were hit by debris flying in strong winds caused by the powerful cyclone, and another who was killed when a house collapsed. The Fiji Broadcasting System reports that seven fishermen have not been heard from since Friday, and are considered missing at sea.

The powerful cyclone caused nearly 4,200 people to be evacuated from their homes, with over 700 families staying in evacuation centers. Along with restoring electricity, water, and other essential services, authorities are still looking to assess the full extent of the damage.

No tourists are reported to be among the deaths caused by the powerful cyclone so far, and the majority of hotels on the main island were unharmed by the powerful cyclone, according to government reports. The death toll from the powerful cyclone may rise once authorities are able to re-establish communications with the most devastated areas.

Fiji comprises a chain or archipelago of islands numbering more than 300 in total. Viti Levu is among the largest and includes the capital Suva along with much of Fiji's population of just under 900,000. The powerful cyclone hit Fiji and then moved westward along the north coast of Viti Levu. Suva was spared the worst of the powerful cyclone's destruction although many buildings were damaged. After Viti Levu Cyclone Winston went out to sea, where it continues to diminish in strength even as it leaves gusting winds and heavy rain in its wake.

Winston is the strongest storm ever experienced in the Southern Hemisphere for as long as record-keeping has been in place. Winds from the powerful cyclone reached 285 kilometers per hour (or about 175 miles per hour) as it wreaked havoc through the chain of islands, gusting to more than 300 kilometers or over 200 miles per hour.

The government has declared a state of natural disaster for a 30-day period. Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama spoke to the nation in a televised address on Sunday.

"The damage has been widespread, homes have been destroyed, many low-lying areas have flooded, and many people have been left stunned and confused about what to do."
A national curfew has been extended through Sunday until 5:30 a.m. Monday morning to protect citizens and during the curfew, police forces may arrest anyone without a warrant to preserve order.
"We will stand united in the face of this disaster."
About 80 percent of the Pacific Island nation's residents remained without regular electricity through Sunday although generators are available in some areas. Landlines are reportedly down, although some mobile phone networks are said to be operational after the powerful cyclone. One of the first priorities is to clear the roads of trees and other debris. Schools will be closed for a full week and three universities in particularly hard hit areas will remain closed indefinitely.
Both police and military forces are involved in the clean up and restoration efforts. The outer islands where communications have been completely cut off by the powerful cyclone are of particular concern.

No flights are operating in or out of Fiji in the wake of the powerful cyclone and roads remain in poor condition, with some streets completely washed out,. The worst affected areas are located along the northern coast of Viti Levu.

International airlines are set to consider resuming landings in Fiji on Monday, a crucial development for the island nation that depends heavily on foreign tourist dollars.

[Photo by UNICEF/Getty Images]