The island of Fiji is facing the worst tropical cyclone in its history – with a category-five cyclone set to sweep across the island on Saturday night.
Tropical Cyclone Winston will bring winds of 300km per hour and gusts of up to 360km per hour – with experts warning that the storm could completely devastate Fiji due to its unprecedented power.
Thousands of residents have already left their homes and relocated to evacuation centers, with winds continuing to intensify as the storm inches closer to the island. All flights in and out of the country have been cancelled until further notice.
The Fijian government has provided a list of 758 evacuation centres across the nation, primarily schools and community centres, that residents should head to if their home becomes unsafe.
Just before 5pm on Saturday, the National Disaster Management announced a total public curfew for the entirety of Fiji from 6pm, in an effort to restrict movement and improve safety.
Authorities also advised members of the public living in low-lying regions in the North to move to higher ground as the cyclone intensifies.
Regions including Savusavu, Korovou town and Levuka were reported without power.
Photographs flooded social media revealing absolute mayhem in city centres, as people flooded public supermarkets in efforts to stock up on supplies before the storm hit.
‘The potential for devastation is high and there is a very real risk that people will lose their lives,’ Neville Koop from the Na Draki Weather Service in Suva said, the ABC reported.
At midday on Saturday Fijian disaster officials and key stakeholders met to discuss how they would respond to the incoming cyclone.
Ministries of infrastructure, health, trade, tourism, foreign affairs, and utilities agencies including the FEA, Water Authority of Fiji, the Fiji Roads Authority, the Police and the Army all sat at a table to discuss the best way to prepare.
Frank Bainimarama, the Prime Minister of Fiji, released a statement at 2pm on Saturday urging Fijians to ‘stick together as a people’ as the nation prepared to face ‘an ordeal of the most grievous kind.’
‘I urge you all, if you haven’t already done so, to finalise your own preparations to survive this terrible event. We cannot afford to be complacent,’ he wrote.
‘I want to assure the nation that the Government is thoroughly prepared to deal with this crisis. Our evacuation centres are fully operational.’
‘And if you have any doubts about the ability of your own home to withstand the onslaught, I urge you to seek shelter where you are most likely to be safe and our officials can assist you.
‘By now, you should have done all you can to secure your property. Make sure you have adequate food and water, flashlights, candles and lanterns in case the power supply is disrupted and a battery operated radio to keep abreast of news of Cyclone Winston’s progress. ‘
International flights have been cancelled for holiday makers heading to or returning from Fiji after Virgin Australia and Jetstar determined flying conditions were unsafe as a result of Cyclone Winston.
The airlines have suspended services between Nadi and Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane on Saturday and Sunday as the category five storm lashes the Pacific island nation.
Monday’s flights are under review and the airlines say affected travellers can change their travel dates or destination without incurring fees or receive a full travel credit.
As of 4pm on Saturday, a hurricane warning remains in force for Vanua-Levu, Taveuni and nearby smaller islands, Northern half of Viti-Levu, Ovalau, Gau, Batiki, Nairai, Koro, Vanuabalavu, Yacata, Mago,Cicia, Tuvuca, Nayau and Vanuavatu.
A storm warning remains in force for Lakeba, Oneata, Moce, Komo,Namuka, Ogea, Moala, Southern half of Viti Levu, Yasawa and Mamanuca Group.
Storm Warning remains in force for Lakeba, Oneata, Moce, Komo,Namuka, Ogea, Moala, Southern half of Viti Levu, Yasawa and Mamanuca Group.
A gale warning and heavy rain warning is in place for the rest of Fiji, and a damaging heavy swell warning is still in place for low-lying coastal areas of Fiji.