At least two people – one a young baby – have died and there are fears entire villages have been destroyed after a powerful cyclone slammed into Fiji.
Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama confirmed on Friday afternoon (Australian time) that a three-month-old baby was one of the dead.
“Two fatalities have been confirmed, a 45-year-old man near Labasa and a three-month-old baby. We sadly expect fatalities to rise,” Commodore Bainimarama said via Facebook video.
Vasiti Soko, director of Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office, said the cyclone hit on Thursday night (local time) with wind gusts of up to 345km/h.
“We will continue to assess the scale of damage in the coming days,” she said.
“But we are likely looking at hundreds of millions of dollars.”
FBC News named the dead man as farmer Ramesh Chand. He was sheltering from the cyclone in his home in the town of Lovelove on the island of Vanua Levu when part of his house fell on him, also injuring his eldest son.
The man’s wife, who wasn’t named, told FBC she grabbed her younger son and ran to a nearby home to seek help: “We called my husband. Wake up! Wake up! But he didn’t wake up.”
The storm also destroyed many other homes on the island, which is Fiji’s second largest.
Save the Children Fiji CEO Shairana Ali said the extent of the cyclone’s damage was still to be determined. But she had head reports of whole villages being wiped out.
“It’s still too early to know the extent of the impact, but we’re hearing reports Yasa destroyed entire villages in the north,” Ms Ali said.
“Now the important task of assessing the damage begins, rapidly determining needs and beginning relief operations. Families will need basic shelter, food, clean drinking water and other basic necessities.”
While Cyclone Yasa proved devastating for those in its path, there was a sense of relief in other parts of the country, where the destruction was not as widespread as many had initially feared.
The eye of the storm moved through Vanua Levu from about 6pm on Thursday, just hours after Commodore Bainimarama had urged Fijians to “prepare for the worst”.
It missed the capital city Suva and the major tourist hub of Nadi on Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu.
Authorities said the cyclone was weakening on Friday as it moved south-east over some of the country’s outer islands.
However, they warned of danger from flooding. Fiji’s government said the Rewa River was rising, with rain still falling. The river skirts Suva and runs through Nausori, where Suva’s airport is located.
Many had worried the storm could rival the destruction caused by Cyclone Winston, which killed 44 people and caused widespread damage when it hit in 2016.
A nationwide curfew imposed on Thursday has been altered, with public transport allowed to resume as families return to their homes from evacuation centres.
On Thursday, Commodore Bainimarama warned that 95 per cent of the population would be in the direct path of Cyclone Yasa.
“The impact for this super storm is more or less the entire country,” he said via Facebook video.