New Delhi, February 25 (G’nY News Service): At least 17 people were killed in Fiji when a record-breaking storm struck the island nation on February 20, 2016. Winds from Cyclone Winston, which tore through Fiji, reached 185mph (297kph), making it the strongest storm in the Southern Hemisphere since record-keeping began, according to Weather Underground. The cyclone was followed by torrential rain, and waves rising upto 12m (40ft). Winston is the first storm system to hit Fiji measuring a maximum Category Five.
Most deaths were caused by people being hit by flying debris or getting trapped in collapsed buildings. A handful of people have also been hospitalized with severe injuries, according to official Fijian sources. Authorities are still having trouble communicating with some areas, including places like Koro Island, which suffered some of the worst damage. More than 6,000 residents across Fiji are staying in emergency shelters after their homes were destroyed or swamped by tidal surges.
Aid agencies admitted that they had no idea about the full extent of the destruction, as Fijians shared pictures on social media of roofless houses, flooded streets and metal signposts bent over by the wild winds. “The logistics of getting supplies and equipment to remote communities is difficult,” Ewan Perrin, Fiji’s permanent secretary for communications said. “Some have lost their jetties and it’s uncertain if airstrips can be landed on.”
The authorities have sent a ship to Koro Island filled with medical supplies, food and water. The crew will build temporary shelters for people on the island whose homes are destroyed. The electricity network across Fiji remains patchy, and in some cases power has been deliberately disconnected to prevent further damage. Clean water is also a challenge, and people are being advised to boil their water, treat it with chemicals or drink bottled water.
Fijians were finally able to venture outside on February 22 after authorities lifted a curfew that had been imposed on Saturday evening. A 30-day declaration of a state of natural disaster remains in effect. Winston’s 185-mph winds smashed the previous record for a Southern Hemisphere cyclone. The old record of 178 mph was shared by Cyclone Zoe, which battered the Solomon Islands in 2002, and Cyclone Monica, which walloped Australia in 2006.