Two victims have been confirmed, according to the Fiji National Disaster Management Office. This number is expected to increase.
Cyclone Yasa, a Category 5 storm, landed over Bua province on the northern island of Vanua Levu on Thursday night, bringing torrential rains, widespread flooding and winds of up to 285 kilometers per hour (177 miles per hour) over the archipelago. .
Fiji on Thursday declared a state of natural disaster, ordered its entire population of nearly a million people to seek shelter and implemented a night fire.
The alarm was largely heeded and, as a result, humanitarian groups said the initial impact of Cyclone Yasa was smaller than initially feared, although still widespread.
“We are very concerned about the safety of thousands of people who have experienced the hardships of this storm of monsters,” Ilisapeci Rokotunidau, director general of the Fiji Red Cross, said on Friday. “Initial reports of volunteers reveal the destruction in Bua, a province on the island of Vanua Levu. The coastal areas of many islands have been affected by storm surges and flooding at storm height.”
Images shared on social networks showed roads blocked by landslides, flood waters and fallen trees. All roads in Rakiraki, a district on the main island with about 30,000 inhabitants, have been flooded, the Fiji road authority said.
“Communities need immediate assistance,” Fiji’s Save the Children CEO Shairana Ali told CNN. “Some families have reported losing everything.”
Ali said some families lost all their food during the storm. “They had water and biscuits for breakfast,” she said. “Our main concern is to make sure that people, especially children, have access to adequate food and clean water.”
Authorities remain concerned about the heavy rains bought by Cyclone Yasa, although the storm has weakened and is now only a Category 2 as it moves south along the island’s chain.
However, adverse weather hampered aid groups’ efforts to send assistance, with waves of more than 3 meters preventing ships from leaving Suva.
Strong cyclones have become more widespread in the Pacific in recent years, which Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and environmental organizations have put into practice climate change.
“This is not normal,” Bainimara posted on Twitter on Thursday. “This is a climate emergency.”
Genevieve Jiva, secretary for Fiji’s 350 environmental NGOs, said in a statement on Friday that Fijians were “literally fighting for our survival.”
“Villages, houses and cultures have been destroyed so close to the Christmas season. Instead of celebrating, we are now focusing on rebuilding our lives,” she said. “This is why I am fighting for climate justice.”