Cyclone Yasa: Category 5 storm RIPS through Fiji killing at least 2, destroying dozens of homes

Strong winds and torrential rains brought by Cyclone Yasa have destroyed dozens of houses and crops in Fiji.

At least two people have died, according to the Fiji National Disaster Management Office. Authorities fear that the number would rise.

The category 5 storm made landfall over Bua province on the northern island of Vanua Levu on Thursday evening, bringing torrential rain, widespread flooding and winds of up to 285 kilometers per hour across the archipelago.

Fiji had on Thursday declared a state of natural disaster, ordered its entire population of nearly 1 million people to seek shelter, and implemented a nightly curfew.

The alarm was largely heeded, and as a result, humanitarian groups said it appeared the initial impact of Cyclone Yasa was less than originally feared, though still extensive.

“We are very concerned for the safety of thousands of people who have experienced the brunt of this monster storm,” Fiji Red Cross Society Director-General Ilisapeci Rokotunidau said in a statement on Friday.

“Initial reports from volunteers are revealing destruction in Bua, a province on the island of Vanua Levu. The coastal areas of many islands have been impacted by storm surges and flooding at the height of the storm.”

All roads in Rakiraki, a district on the main island with about 30,000 residents, were flooded, Fiji’s Road Authority said.

Authorities remain concerned about heavy rains brought by Cyclone Yasa, though the storm has weakened in strength and is now just a category 2 as it moves south across the island chain.

Still, the adverse weather has hampered efforts by aid groups to dispatch assistance, with waves of more than 3 meters preventing ships leaving Suva.

Strong cyclones have become increasingly common in the Pacific in recent years, something Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, and environmental organizations have put down to climate change.

“This is not normal,” Bainimara tweeted on Thursday. “This is a climate emergency.”