21 february 2016

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6 Dead as Tropical Cyclone Winston Tears Through Fiji; State of Emergency Declared amid Severe Wind and Flooding Damage

By Eric Chaney and Anna Norris, weather.com, February 21, 2016

The death toll continues to rise in Fiji after Tropical Cyclone Winston made landfall Saturday.

Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston made landfall in Fiji on Saturday, killing at least six people and destroying hundreds of homes. Strong winds and flooding from Winston have caused severe damage across the island nation, which is under curfew until 5:30 a.m. Monday. A monthlong state of disaster has also been declared.

George Dregaso of Fiji's National Disaster Management Office told The Associated Press that two people on Ovalau Island died when the house they were sheltering in collapsed on them, and that another man was killed on Koro Island, although it wasn't clear how.

Authorities also said three people on the main island of Viti Levu were killed in the storm, but didn't have more details.

Tourism Minister Faiyaz Siddiq Koya said that all tourists in Fiji were safe and that there was no significant damage to the majority of hotels on the main island. Fiji is a popular tourist destination, known for its beach resorts and scuba diving.

Officials were trying to establish communications and road access to the hardest-hit areas, and said they would not know the full extent of the damage and injuries until then.

In a televised address to the nation Sunday, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said many people had been left without power, fresh water or communications.

"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," he said.

He said that the police and military had been brought in to help with rescue operations and the general cleanup, and that government agencies were working overtime to clear roads and restore power.

"This is a time of sorrow, but it will also be a time of action," Bainimarama said. "We will stand united in the face of this disaster."

The Fiji Times reported trees and power lines down, and roofs blown off by strong winds in the Rakiraki district; in Kausori and Korovou, entire houses have been blown away.

Five of the teachers' quarters in the Nabasovi District School were completely destroyed, one blown down and another missing its roof, the FBC reported. All teachers residing in the buildings took shelter in a classroom.

On its Facebook page, the Ministry of Education announced all schools would be closed next week. "Those schools which are completely devastated will be informed of their status by the end of next week," education minister Dr. Mahendra Reddy wrote.

Flooding has extended into hospitals in the Bua Province, according to FBC, and mobile networks are down.

In the Eastern Division, 150 houses have been confirmed destroyed and another 60 were damaged, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Fiji Times reported that police teams are out and helping residents all throughout the country, though widespread communications issues are interfering with police efforts to assist residents of the outer islands.

The roads in Savusavu are in bad condition. Streets have been washed out, and a bus was even washed inland by a wave, according to FBC. The Fiji Times Online reported that the Savusavu jetty was also forced to close after taking damage from Cyclone Winston.

"All evacuation centers across the country have been activated and people are currently being accommodated in these centers," the Fijian government said on its Facebook page. The government has also reported roads blocked by falling trees, stating that roads would be repaired after the cyclone cleared the area.

All flights in and out of Fiji have been canceled, The Age reported.

A family in Tuirara, Nasinu walked away uninjured after strong winds pushed a tree onto their corrugated iron house, according to Fiji Broadcasting Corporation.

American country music singer Darryl Worley and his wife Kimberly were among those on the island when Tropical Cyclone Winston hit on Saturday morning. Ahead of the storm, Worley posted several updates to his Facebook page indicating that he and his wife were preparing for the storm and were ready to take shelter. A member of Worley’s social media team posted Saturday on Facebook that the singer’s mother had received a call indicating that both Worley and his wife were okay.

“They are fine. They weathered the storm in a concrete storm room at the resort. The islands are devastated and their [sic] is no electricity. There is some limited generator use at the resort. They have no wifi or information coming in so they don't really know when they will get to leave or any details of things around them other than where they are,” the post read.

Worley was on the island for a week-long event called Tunes in the Tropics, according to Taste of Country.

The island nation has a population of about 900,000 people.

According to Matangi Tonga Online, trees and power lines were brought down and homes were damaged in Vava'u, but officials said they haven't confirmed any injuries.

Hundreds of residents went into shelters during the storm, and hurricane-force wind gusts were reported on the island early Tuesday morning, Matangi Tonga Online also said.

“We are thankful there has been no report of lives lost or injuries in all of the islands,” Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni told Parliament.

The tropical cyclone's eye is now pulling away from Viti Levu and conditions are expected to slowly improve.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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