Nearly 2,000 people evacuated to emergency shelters as cyclone pounds Fiji, causing widespread damage.
The Fiji government ordered a nationwide curfew on Thursday, including a ban on public transportation, with a potentially devastating cyclone expected to unleash powerful winds and flooding on the island nation within a day.
Cyclone Yasa, a top category five storm, is expected to bring winds of up to 250 kilometres per hour (155 miles per hour) and torrential rain across the South Pacific archipelago nation when it makes landfall by early Friday.
The country ordered a 14-hour nationwide curfew starting at 4pm (04:00 GMT) with people living in low-lying areas urged to move to higher ground before nightfall, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said in a video posted to Facebook.
“The impact for this super storm is more or less the entire country,” Bainimarama said in the video.
Yasa would “easily surpass” the strength of 2016’s Cyclone Winston, he added, referring to the southern hemisphere’s most intense tropical storm on record, which killed more than 40 Fijians and left tens of thousands of people homeless.
More than 850,000 Fijians, or 95 percent of the population, live in the direct path of Yasa, said Bainimarama, adding that weather forecasts anticipated flash flooding and “severe coastal inundation” that included waves up to 10 metres (33 feet) high.
‘The world is heating up’
Police would enforce a ban on public transport, said the country’s National Disaster Management Office, which added that the country had declared a “state of natural disaster” which gives law enforcement authorities increased powers.
By 8pm (08:00 GMT) on Thursday, the centre of Yasa was forecast to be 100km (62 miles) east of the village of Yasawa-i-Rara and potentially over Fiji’s fifth-most populous province of Bua, home to 15,000 people, the office said.
Reception centres for possible evacuees have been set up and people living on the coast were advised to seek higher ground.
Many houses in Fiji are made from wood or corrugated iron, materials that make them particularly vulnerable in storms.
Hence the call to find refuge in schools, churches or even containers.
Long committed to the fight against global warming, Bainimarama once again blamed the rise in temperatures for these powerful cyclones, which were previously much rarer.
“The world is heating up, and these storms are strengthening it,” he lamented. “Each of us must take these climate-fueled disasters seriously.”