Cyclone Winston: Fiji deals with devastating aftermath

• At least six killed, as ferocious category 5 storm slams into Fiji
• Trees, homes destroyed - residents, tourists hunker down
• Gusts of up to 325km/h and 12m high waves
• The Government of Fiji declared a State of Disaster for 30 days
• 1066 people remain sheltering at 35 evacuation centres across Vanua Levu
• NZ has sent an Orion and made an emergency fund of $50,000 available
• Anyone with concerns for the welfare of people in Fiji should call MFAT on +64 4 439-8000.

Fiji is coming to terms with the level of destruction left in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Winston, which cut a swathe through the islands overnight, killing at least six people, destroying homes and cutting essential services.

Evacuation centres have been set up and relief teams have been mobilised from New Zealand to help the island nation recover from the furious category 5 storm and to help authorities assess the extent of the damage.

READ MORE:
Cyclone Winston: All you need to know
Woman live tweets Cyclone Winston destroying her home in Fiji
Cyclone Winston: As it happened

As the strongest tropical cyclone ever to make landfall in Fiji moved over the country, Cayla Tikaram hid with her family in a cupboard with a mattress, praying and crying as the storm ripped the roof off her house, flooded it, crushed the walls and ripped the shutters off the windows. Debris flew through the air around them.

And as the storm bore down, the pastry chef at a resort in Rakiraki, in northern Viti Levu, tweeted throughout.

"The house is leaking and everyone's crying. Planning where to hide when the entire roof comes off."

Once the eye of Cyclone Winston had passed, the family emerged from their hiding spot and started to assess the extent of the damage.

"Can't even begin to comprehend how we survived. Every room of the house is shredded to bits," Ms Tikaram tweeted.

On Koro Island, a man was killed when his house collapsed under pressure from winds that reached a mean speed of 110km/h. He was an elder from the village of Navanga, and the Herald has been told he will be buried today because there is no morgue on the island.

Wow this is what happens in a cyclone and the power lines short out and become live hazards #cyclonewinston

Posted by Bridget Larsen on Saturday, February 20, 2016

Meanwhile, according to the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, 1066 people remain sheltering at 35 evacuation centres across Vanua Levu. They were being given food rations.

Officials are telling people to stay indoors because of damage to the power network, and live wires lying in the streets.

All schools in the country will go on a break for one week from tomorrow. Education Minister Mahendra Reddy said the break would allow parents and students to recover from the cyclone.

"[It will also allow] the management ... to do the clean-up and prepare the school.

"We will also ensure that we don't lose any teaching time so the term one break that is supposed to be for two weeks will now be for one week because we are pulling one week from next week that is tomorrow," he said.

Tropical Cyclone Winston threat track to midnight 24 February 2016 shows the weather system moving westward until midnight 22 February before tracking south east and downgrading to a category 4 storm. Image / supplied
Tropical Cyclone Winston threat track to midnight 24 February 2016 shows the weather system moving westward until midnight 22 February before tracking south east and downgrading to a category 4 storm. Image / supplied

Unicef worker Alice Clements -- who is staying in Suva -- said she wouldn't wish a category 5 cyclone on her worst enemy.

Speaking to AAP from her sturdy home on Saturday evening, Ms Clements described a dystopian scene of downed banana trees, howling winds and the "ominous" sounds of corrugated iron lifting on some of the roofs.

New Zealand's Minister of Pacific Peoples, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, has paid tribute to the people of Fiji.

"We send our prayers and thoughts to Fiji. We stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their time of need."

Mr Lotu-Iiga said he had met members of the Fiji Community Association in Auckland.
They will be working with the leaders of other Pacific communities in New Zealand to determine what needs to be done to help Fijians in the islands.

The minister encouraged Fijians here to make contact with loved ones overseas and if they are struggling to get in touch, to make contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for assistance.

Cyclone Winston damage at Ba, Western Fiji. Photo / Jay Dayal
Cyclone Winston damage at Ba, Western Fiji. Photo / Jay Dayal

An emergency fund of $50,000 has been opened up by the Government and an Orion plane has flown to Fiji to assess the damage.

The money has been made available immediately through the High Commission in Fiji for any urgent requests from the Fiji Government.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has also authorised the release of up to $170,000 in relief supplies held in the country by groups such as Unicef and Rotary. Further help will be decided in coming days once the scale of the support needed is known.

"New Zealand stands ready to assist the people of Fiji as they deal with the aftermath of Cyclone Winston and we are in close contact with the Government of Fiji. It is clear that further support will be required and we will be working with the local authorities over the coming days to determine how we can best assist."

Cyclone Winston damage at Ba Hospital, Western Fiji. Photo / Jay Dayal
Cyclone Winston damage at Ba Hospital, Western Fiji. Photo / Jay Dayal

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said there had so far been no reports of New Zealanders injured in the cyclone and Kiwis concerned about friends and family in Fiji should attempt to make contact directly in the first instance. However, communication lines were down in many parts of the country. Those with ongoing concerns should call the ministry.

Habitat for Humanity International has a staff team of disaster response experts providing direct support to Fiji.

"The same people who served in Nepal last year after the April earthquake are now focused on Winston and the critical need for a shelter response in the Pacific," said Claire Szabo, chief executive of Habitat for Humanity New Zealand.

"It's easy to feel hopeless when you are far away, and you're just watching the weather reports with horror. But our team has come together this weekend to ensure that New Zealanders hear about the shelter needs of people in this cyclone, and have a chance to show support."

Video

Winston reaches gusts of 285km/h

MetService New Zealand meteorologist Emma Blades said the tiny western island of Viwa was the latest to feel the category 5 cyclone's force, but Winston was 175km west of Viwa at 10am (NZT).

The cyclone was moving about 22km an hour, and still packing a punch with average wind speeds of 205km/h and gusts of 285km/h.

Viwa, which is home to a resort, was still subject to a weather warning that included heavy rain, squally thunderstorms, damaging swells and flooding. The phone line was not working when the Herald tried to call the island's resort.

Although Winston had passed, there would continue to be strong winds throughout Fiji, Ms Blades said. "That will ease through the day."

Damage from Cyclone Winston to houses in Taveuni. Photo / Di Liti Sekitoga via NaDraki Weather Facebook
Damage from Cyclone Winston to houses in Taveuni. Photo / Di Liti Sekitoga via NaDraki Weather Facebook

Worst affected on the main islands were the top of Viti Levu and the bottom of Vanua Levu. In the latter, a mean wind speed of 194km/h was recorded, but it would have been gusting much higher, Ms Blades said.

"The eye passed really close to them."

Nadi, where the international airport is located on Viti Levu's western coast, recorded mean wind speeds of 80km/h and gusts up to 130km/h, she said.

WeatherWatch said there was a moderate risk New Zealand's North Island would receive the remnants of Winston at the end of the week.

Cyclone Winston hits Taveuni. Photo / Ronal Singh via NaDraki Weather Facebook
Cyclone Winston hits Taveuni. Photo / Ronal Singh via NaDraki Weather Facebook

Kiwis hunker down

As of this morning, 186 New Zealanders had registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade as being in Fiji.

Kiwi mother Melinda Dent, holidaying in Fiji with her husband, two children and mother-in-law, described her cyclone experience as "terrifying". She feared her feet would be taken "out from under me" when she fled her hotel room for the Sheraton's ballroom last night.

"The wind wasn't gusty, just constant, full-force wind and so incredibly noisy. When I felt like the windows must be about to blow in, we were advised that an evacuation crew was coming around.

Powerlines down at Lautoka. Photo / Fijian Government Facebook
Powerlines down at Lautoka. Photo / Fijian Government Facebook

"At the storm's peak we were taken under covered walkways to the hotel's ballroom with all the other guests. The walk there was very scary -- horizontal rain and wind that felt like it was going to take my feet out from under me."

The family stayed in the ballroom till about 2am, before returning to their room. It was flooded, but the beds were dry, she said.

NZME account director Ben Rose spent the night sheltered in a board room at the Sofitel on Denarau Island. He and about 350 others, including a wedding party forced to shut down by the hotel manager, and babies and their mums, spent the night on the second floor room as the wind howled and rain lashed the island, less than 10km from Nadi.

Cyclone Winston bears down on Taveuni. Photo / JointCyclone Twitter
Cyclone Winston bears down on Taveuni. Photo / JointCyclone Twitter

Between 11 last night and 1am today was the worst, said Mr Rose, 38.

"You could feel the pressure of it outside. They were screwing batons across the doors outside. You could hear the wind and the rain ... from 11pm it was going non-stop, it was absolutely torrential. About 5.30am, the general manager said, 'We've managed to make it through the night'."

A passerby at Nadi town. Photo / Fijian Government Facebook
A passerby at Nadi town. Photo / Fijian Government Facebook

Flights suspended

Flights in and out of Fiji continue to be affected by the cyclone.

Air New Zealand has cancelled all flights to or from the country today. It had two flights from Auckland to Nadi and two from Nadi to Auckland scheduled.

"We will continue to monitor the situation and update accordingly," the airline said on its website.

Cyclone Winston damage at Ba, Western Fiji. Photo / Jay Dayal
Cyclone Winston damage at Ba, Western Fiji. Photo / Jay Dayal

Fiji Airways said on its website that it had cancelled all its flights scheduled for today and tomorrow.

A Qantas spokeswoman said its services yesterday and today had been cancelled. The situation would be reviewed again tomorrow.

Virgin Australia and Jetstar have also suspended flights in and out of the country.

Communication a major obstacle

Communication continues to be a major obstacle for aid workers trying to provide relief.

Ahmad Sami, acting head of the Red Cross's Suva office, said this meant it was still not clear which areas were worst affected by the ferocious storm.

"It might be that the most-affected areas are still trying to communicate with us and we are trying to communicate with them, but it's proving very difficult at the moment," he said.

"We are receiving some information from outer islands and remote areas that houses have been seriously impacted but no numbers have been confirmed yet because of this challenge."

Raijeli Nicole, Oxfam's Pacific regional director, said communications were also a major challenge for her organisation, and for Fiji's Government.

"Islands have been really hit hard by this cyclone and we don't have any information whatsoever," she said.

Travelling to the islands by sea remained "out of the question" because it was not known whether they had functioning jetties.

It was hoped a surveillance flight by a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion later today would provide some indication of how to best access isolated areas.

Roads throughout the country were washed out or blocked by fallen trees. This was greatly hampering the response and making it difficult for the injured to get to hospital.

"Another area that we're challenged by is electricity -- the main power stations can't be accessed because the roads are flooded or there are trees across the road," Ms Nicole said. "Across the board the response is very difficult."

Oxfam was liaising with other non-government organisations to co-ordinate the aid response.

"We're on standby ready to deploy our staff from the region," she said.

Ms Nicole said there were no estimates yet of how many people had been left homeless by the cyclone.

"But there's certainly been widespread damage both on the main two islands and on the smaller islands."

- NZ Herald

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