Villages flattened as Cyclone Winston smashes Fiji

State of natural disaster declared after powerful cyclone tears through Pacific nation, killing at least five.

A beachside villa and trees lay destroyed following high winds caused by Cyclone Winston at the Tokoriki Island Resort in Fiji
A beachside villa and trees lay destroyed after high winds caused by Cyclone Winston [Sarah Bingham/Reuters]

Residents of Fiji have started cleaning up and assessing the damage after the most powerful cyclone to hit the Pacific nation tore through its islands and killed at least six people.

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

A 30-day state of natural disaster was declared on Sunday, a curfew was extended and police were empowered to make arrests without a warrant.

Fiji hit by strongest storm recorded there

Cyclone Winston hit Fiji on Saturday with wind speeds estimated at up to 285km/h. It destroyed hundreds of homes and shredded crops.

The worst-affected areas were along the northern coast of the main island, Viti Levu.

Al Jazeera’s senior meteorologist Richard Angwin said around 6.30GMT on Sunday that Winston was headed away from land.

“Its forecast track cannot be relied on 100 percent, but it should keep away from land from now on,” Angwin said.

Deaths ‘could increase’

An elderly man in the village of Nabasovi on Koro Island was killed after the roof of the house he was in collapsed. 

The Red Cross said there were unconfirmed reports of three more deaths, while the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation put the death toll so far at five.

In another village on Koro Island, 50 homes were reportedly destroyed.

Many, however, fear that casualty numbers will increase once reports come in from outlying islands and from so-called “squatter areas” where shanty-standard housing was unlikely to have withstood the category 5 storm.

Alice Clements from UNICEF Pacific was in the capital Suva when the cyclone hit.

“We certainly felt the impact of…Winston in Suva with destructive, howling winds and the sound of rivets lifting from roofs a constant throughout the night,” she said.

“It is likely that smaller villages across Fiji will have suffered the most, given their infrastructures would be too weak to withstand the power of a category 5 cyclone.”

Power, water and communication services are yet to be restored across this nation of almost 900,000.

Near total devastation

Winston made landfall around 7pm (local time) on Saturday near Rakiraki on the north coast of Fiji’s main island.

In the nearby district of Ba, local businessman Jay Dayal said for three hours Winston pounded the area with very heavy winds and constant, torrential rain.

After inspecting the district today he described scenes of near total devastation.

“We haven’t seen so much damage in any of the past cyclones, not in my lifetime,” he told Reuters via telephone. “The three and a half hours of wind that we had, it just literally destroyed buildings.


“Looking at all of the smaller houses and the squatter areas, they are almost flat,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if people are now starting to go without food. It looks like a different country, it doesn’t look like Fiji,” he said.

He said relief efforts were being hampered by trees and power lines blocking roads and by a power failure but that the police and the army were doing a good job in the initial phase of the clean-up.

The government also declared a 30-day state of natural disaster, giving extra powers to police to arrest people without a warrant in the interest of public safety.

As a nation, we are facing an ordeal of the most grievous kind,” Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama wrote on social media. “We must stick together as a people and look after each other.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it had an emergency response team on standby, but that Bainimarama had not yet asked for help.

The airlines Virgin and Jetstar on Saturday suspended flights into and out of Fiji’s international airport, while the national carrier suspended all flights.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies