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Kamis, 17 Desember 2020

Fiji surveys damage from Cyclone Yasa — one of the strongest storms ever recorded - ABC News

Authorities in Fiji have begun the grim task of determining the true extent of destruction caused by hurricane-force winds, flooding and massive waves overnight after Cyclone Yasa made landfall.

The category five storm tore across the northern island of Vanua Levu last night, with winds gusting as high as 345 kilometres per hour.

Tales of destruction were already emerging overnight with widespread flooding and landslides reported in Fiji's north as buildings and crops were destroyed.

"We're getting photos coming through this morning with schools completely demolished, roofs blown off and families talking about hiding under shelter overnight to survive the storm," said Cate Heinrich, Chief of Communication at UNICEF Pacific.

Speaking to the ABC from Suva after a long night of storm winds and heavy rain, Ms Heinrich said they were just beginning to receive details of the scale of the destruction as a nationwide curfew lifted at 6:00am.

"We're still getting numbers through from the northern division, but we know already that there's over 23,000 people in evacuation centres, and that number is expected to grow, and the photos we're getting through are really disastrous," she said.

Although Cyclone Yasa had not passed directly over the capital Suva, power and water were cut across large parts of the city for the past 24 hours, she said, as storm winds and heavy rain could still be heard in the background.

Antony Balmain, spokesperson for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said they had been assisting government authorities to make sure people evacuated safely.

He said in addition to more than 300 evacuation centres, tens of thousands of people took shelter in public buildings or secured their own homes to wait out the storm.

"Initial reports indicate widespread destruction across areas of Vanua Levu and reports from Red Cross branches say that many homes have been flattened," he said.

People walk through ankle-deep water along a road that runs between trees and under powerlines
Residents wade through the flooded streets in Fiji's capital city of Suva in the wake of Cyclone Yasa.(AFP: Leon Lord)

Mr Balmain said Cyclone Yasa was "severely affecting all islands in its path" as it barrelled across Fiji and beyond.

"This is one of the most destructive and severe cyclones that has ever hit Fiji," he said.

Images shared on social media showed roads blocked by landslides, floodwaters and fallen trees.

All roads in Rakiraki, a district on the main island with about 30,000 residents, were flooded, according to local media.

Communications were also cut to many areas and the Government declared a 30-day "State of Natural Disaster".

'It was devastating'

A man stands on a ladder and nails a sheet of plastic over the window of a home as a woman watches on
Residents in Suva prepared their homes as Cyclone Yasa approached.(AFP: Lice Movono)

Local teacher Asena said residents had to take shelter at the school.

"It was devastating. There was water coming in so they couldn't sleep on the floor so they had to arrange the desks — put them together so the children could sleep on top of the desk inside of the classroom and the desks were in the middle of the room," he told the ABC.

As Yasa approached, Fiji ordered its entire population of around 900,000 to take shelter in the path of what was expected to be the worst storm in its recorded history.

"The impact for this super storm is more or less the entire country," Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said in a video posted on Facebook.

He told the country's near 1 million population to find safe shelter ahead of a 14-hour nationwide curfew that began at 4:00pm.

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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.

"Since then, we've been battered by 12 more cyclones — two of which (Winston and Yasa) are now jockeying for our hemisphere's strongest-ever storm in history."

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Mr Bainimarama linked the ferocity of the cyclones to climate change, warning such storms are getting stronger.

As the storm approached, weather forecasts had anticipated flash flooding and "severe coastal inundation" including waves up to 10 metres high.

Fiji banned the running of public transport, and was taking precautions with some 50 foreign yachts moored in the southern part of the island chain.

"The boats have been moved to mangrove shelter, which provide good protection against the winds," said Cynthia Rasch, chief executive officer of Port Denarau Marina. Fiji reopened to foreign boats in October in a bid to revive a tourism industry hit hard by coronavirus.

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There are already reports of damage to homes and trees being uprooted. (Photo: Lice Movono)

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2020-12-17 23:29:00Z
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