Fiji is already feeling the damage of Cyclone Yasa with landslides and flooding reported across the country.
The category 5 cyclone is set to make landfall in Bua, Vanua Levu, by 8pm Thursday (9pm NZ time). A state of natural disaster has been declared and a strict curfew imposed until Friday morning.
Niwa is predicting “destructive impacts” for the islands, with damaging winds, flash flooding and dangerous seas expected. Near the eye of the cyclone, wind speeds are forecast to average 240km with momentary gusts of up to 345kmh. The cyclone is moving southeast at around 24km an hour.
All major roads in the Ra Province’s Rakiraki are flooded. The region has been hit with rain and winds of over 100kmh since 10am on Thursday, according to The Fiji Times.
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Police are urging those in the region not to leave their houses.
Traffic lights in Nadi CBD have been turned off to prevent the controller getting damaged.
Over 850,000 people are reportedly in the direct path of the cyclone – more than 95 per cent of the country’s population. A total of 1417 people have been evacuated to 53 evacuation centres across the country. Police are providing security at all the centres.
Cate Heinrich, who is in Suva, said power outages have already been experienced across the islands, and people have been told to stock up on food and drinking water to last the next few days.
“Everyone is inside and no-one’s moving anywhere now while we wait it out,” she told Stuff. “Everyone’s [as] prepared as they can be at this stage.”
The NDMO is recommending people store enough water for up to seven days and boil it before drinking.
Heinrich, who is Unicef’s Pacific chief of communication, said although she is not on the coast, she can feel the cyclone approaching. She described it as “very eerie”.
“It’s quite windy, the rain is coming down and … you can feel that it’s coming, and it’s just going to get stronger. It’s getting closer and you can feel it.”
Heavy rain has already resulted in flooding in some areas. Fiji Police Force issued a warning for people and children to stay clear of flooded areas.
“We have found a lot of children playing and left unsupervised in flooded areas and please be reminded that we don’t want to arrest anyone due to disobedience of lawful order, however, if people continue to disregard our instructions, we will arrest them,” assistant commissioner of police Abdul Khan said.
Yasa is the fourth most powerful tropical cyclone recorded in the South Pacific region, according to Weather Watch, and is believed to be the strongest storm on Earth at the moment.
The level of damage could equal that caused by Cyclone Winston in 2016.
“Do not be caught off guard by this latest storm,” Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said on Wednesday as the weather system moved towards Fiji.
Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) announced officially declared the situation a state of natural disaster on Friday. The declaration will remain for the next 30 days, with more regulations to follow.
“The declaration of Tropical Cyclone Yasa as a natural disaster under the Natural Disaster Management Act 1998 is now in force,” NDMO director Vasiti Soko said at a press conference, according to The Fiji Times.
“One of the key priorities in that is it allows the National Disaster Management Office to call all of Government’s asset to be on standby and to be mobilised,” Soko said.
“There are provisions in the regulations where we will work with the Fiji Police Force in regards to evacuating people.”
A hurricane warning is in force for the Yasawa Group, northern and eastern half of Viti Levu, Yadua, Galoa, Kia, Mali, Vanua Levu, Taveuni and nearby smaller islands, Matuku, Moala, Totoya and Lomaiviti Group.
The Fiji Meteorological Service has also issued warnings for storms, gales, storm surges, damaging heavy swells, heavy rain, severe flooding, and flash flooding.
A nationwide curfew has been in place since 4pm local time and will continue through to 6am Friday morning.
“Unless you are evacuating, that means stay off the roads and stay safely sheltered,” Bainimarama said in a post on Facebook on Thursday.
Bainimarama visited an evacuation centre in Newtown on Thursday to meet those who had been displaced.
The eye of the storm is expected to pass 100km east of Yasaway-i-rara and 90km southwest of Labasa, according to the Fijian Government.
By 8am Friday morning (9am NZT), the centre of the cyclone is forecast to be 50km northeast of Moala.
Unicef is working with the Fijian Government to ensure the hardest hit regions will receive appropriate resources and care on Friday.
Items such as tents, water and sanitation and health kits are prepared and ready to be distributed, with additional resources ready to be sent from Brisbane, Australia, if required.
“[We’re] hoping that the impact isn’t that huge, but we’re getting prepared,” Heinrich said.