SYDNEY (Reuters) - Fijian officials were assessing the damage on Sunday after one of the most powerful storms recorded in the southern hemisphere tore through the archipelago, with early reports of widespread disruption and one confirmed death.
Reports from the ground said entire villages had been wiped out by Cyclone Winston, a Category 5 tropical cyclone that packed winds of 230 kph (143 mph), with gusts of up to 325 kph (202 mph).
The storm hit Fiji late on Saturday, having changed direction at the last minute to spare the capital Suva the full force of its winds.
“Some villages have reported that all homes have been destroyed,” Jone Tuiipelehaki of the United Nations Development Program tweeted late on Saturday. “50 homes have been reported destroyed in the Navaga village in Koro Island.”
Power, water and communications services were cut across much of the country of almost 900,000 people.
The Fiji Times newspaper said at least seven outlying islands had suffered severe damage.
“Houses have been blown away, roof tops have gone, power lines have been broken and debris scattered around in towns and cities,” the newspaper said.
Authorities confirmed that an elderly man had died on Koro Island when a roof fell on him.
The government declared a 30-day state of emergency amid concerns of flash flooding and mudslides. The measure allows all official forces to be mobilized to help the clean-up effort and gives extra powers to police.
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama had imposed a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. on Saturday, and people flocked to 758 evacuation centers.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it had an emergency response team on standby, but that Bainimarama had not yet asked for help.
The airlines Virgin and Jetstar on Saturday suspended flights into and out of Fiji’s international airport, while the national carrier suspended all flights.
Editing by Kevin Liffey