It’s reported that two people died when Cyclone Yasa made a landfill in Fiji last Thursday night.
Authorities are busy on the ground trying to assess the extent of damage caused by hurricane-force winds, mammoth waves and flooding.
The category five storm systems ravaged through the northern island of Vanua Levu with wind gusts moving at speeds of 345km/h.
According to the National Disaster Management Office, two deaths were confirmed including that of a three-month old baby.
About 93,000 other people were seriously impacted by the cyclone, the Disaster officer noted, adding that the figure was likely to increase as communications are restored to areas affected by the cyclone.
The Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne told reporters that an Australian Air Force plane was scheduled for deployment to the storm affected areas to “assist with aerial surveillance”.
“The Australian Government will assist the Government of Fiji in whatever capacity we can,” she said in a statement on Saturday.
“We stand ready to deliver additional emergency supplies such as tents, tarpaulins and hygiene kits, and to support the distribution of supplies to remote outer islands, which are reported to have been severely hit by the category five storm.”
Authorities explained that the cyclone would weaken by Friday as it tracked southeast over some parts of Fiji’s outer islands.
However, warnings are in place for widespread flooding.
Fiji’s Government reported that the Rewa River waters were rapidly rising, as rain continued erratically.
The Rewa is on the outskirts of the capital Suva and meanders through Nausori where Suva airport is situated.
‘Everybody seems to be shell-shocked’
Extensive flooding and massive landslides have been experienced in Fiji’s north as crops and buildings got damaged in several villages.
“We’re getting photos coming through this morning with schools completely demolished, roofs blown off and families talking about hiding under shelter overnight to survive the storm,” stated Cate Heinrich, Chief of Communication at UNICEF Pacific.
“It’s only early morning here and the devastation is only really becoming apparent now that it’s daylight.”
While speaking to reporters from Suva on Friday morning, following a distressful night of heavy rainfall and stormy winds, Ms Heinrich noted that they were now receiving details of the scale of destruction with the nationwide curfew being lifted at 6:00am.
“We’re still getting numbers through from the northern division, but we know already that there are over 23,000 people in 457 evacuation centres, and that number is expected to grow, and the photos we’re getting through are really disastrous,” she said.
Even though Cyclone Yasa had not tracked through Suva, water and electricity were disconnected in most parts of the city for about 24 hours, she explained as stormy winds and heavy showers continued to batter the region.
Heavy flooding was experienced in Suva but Ms Heinrich noted that the parts most in need were those not easily accessible, and reaching such areas would highly be determined by the weather conditions.
She added that earlier assessments would be done in the near future but delivering emergency items like water, shelter and sanitation kits would “be a challenge”.
Pictures and videos shared on social media revealed several roads being completely blocked by floodwaters, landslides and fallen trees.
Communications in many parts were also disrupted as the Government declared a 30-day “State of Natural Disaster”.
As Yasa arrived, authorities in Fiji ordered its people to take shelter along the path of what would be considered the worst storm ever in the country’s history.
“The impact for this super storm is more or less the entire country,” Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama spoke in a video posted on Facebook.
He advised its almost one million population to find safer shelter ahead of the planned 14-hour nationwide curfew that took effect from 4:00pm.
Ms Heinrich told reporters that “A lot of work has gone on in Fiji to prepare for disasters,” including a newly developed system to provide prompt warnings and evacuation instructions through SMS.
According to Antony Balmain, spokesperson for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), they were working hand in hand with government authorities to ensure people were safely evacuated.
He noted that besides the hundreds of evacuation centres in place, tens of thousands more took shelter in various public buildings as others secured their homes to withstand the storm.
Mr Balmain added that Cyclone Yasa had “severely affected all islands in its path” as earlier reports “indicate widespread destruction” and many homes “flattened”.
“This is one of the most destructive and severe cyclones that has ever hit Fiji,” he said.
“The full extent of the damage is only just starting to be revealed.”
‘A double disaster’
As the storm arrived on Thursday evening, the Prime Minister Bainimarama had indicated that Yasa was going to “easily surpass” the strength of the 2016 Cyclone Winston, terming the southern hemisphere’s as the most intense tropical storm in history, and which left more than 40 Fijians dead and tens of thousands homeless.
“On this same day in 2012, Fiji was enduring Cyclone Evan,” Mr Bainimarama tweeted.
“Since then, we’ve been battered by 12 more cyclones — two of which (Winston and Yasa) are now jockeying for our hemisphere’s strongest-ever storm in history.”
The Premier blamed the ferocity of the Cyclones on climate change, warning that these kinds of storms would become more frequent and intense.
As the storm set in, weather forecasts predicted flash flooding and “severe coastal inundation” as well as high waves of up to 10 metres.
CARE spokesperson Stefan Knollmayer noted that despite Fiji having managed to avoid major outbreaks of COVID-19, “this year has already been economically and socially devastating given tourism employs so many people, especially women”.
“A cyclone like this could be a double disaster for Fiji.”
In July, The country’s Prime Minister reported that one-third of Fiji’s workforce had lost jobs or working hours slashed due to the pandemic.
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