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Six people killed as Cyclone Winston strikes Fiji

Published 21/02/2016

Fiji was hit by 177mph winds
Fiji was hit by 177mph winds

Fijians have been told to stay inside for a second night after a cyclone left at least six people dead and destroyed hundreds of homes.

Winds from Cyclone Winston, which tore through the Pacific Island chain over the weekend, reached 177mph, making it the strongest storm in the Southern Hemisphere since records began, according to the Weather Underground website.

Although the weather had calmed on Sunday, a curfew was extended through to early on Monday, with police empowered to make arrests without a warrant to ensure order.

Authorities are now clearing vital roads and trying to restore electricity.

George Dregaso of Fiji's national disaster management office said two people died on Ovalau Island when the house they were sheltering in collapsed on them. Another man was killed on Koro Island, although the circumstances are not yet clear.

Three people were killed in the storm on the main island of Viti Levu.

Tourism minister Faiyaz Siddiq Koya said that all tourists in Fiji were safe and that there was no significant damage to the majority of hotels on the main island.

Fiji is a popular tourist destination, known for its beach resorts and scuba diving.

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

Cyclone Winston hit Fiji on Saturday and moved westward overnight along the northern coast of Viti Levu. Fiji's capital, Suva, located in the southern part of the main island, was not directly in the cyclone's path and avoided the worst of it.

"Truth be told, we've gotten off pretty lightly here in the capital," said Alice Clements, a spokeswoman for Unicef.

"It was still a pretty awful night. You could hear crashing trees and power lines, and popping rivets as roofs got lifted and ripped out."

About 80% of the nation's 900,000 people were without regular power, although about one-third of them were able to get some power from generators. Landlines throughout Fiji were down, but most mobile networks were working.

Mr Dregaso said there were 483 people who had evacuated from their homes and were staying in 32 emergency shelters. He said he expected the number of evacuees to rise.

Authorities are urging people to remain indoors as they cleared fallen trees and power lines. They said that all schools would be closed for a week to allow time for the clean-up, and that three universities would be closed until further notice.

The government declared a 30-day state of natural disaster, giving extra powers to police to arrest people without a warrant.

The government said the curfew would end at 5.30am on Monday.

Ms Clements, the Unicef spokeswoman, said there was particular concern for people on the northern part of the main island and on smaller islands.

She said that many would have lost their homes and livelihoods, and that some tourist resorts on the outer islands may have been damaged.

The airport reopened on Sunday to allow emergency flights, Mr Dregaso said, after many flights had been cancelled the day before.

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

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