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Tropical Cyclone Slams Into Fiji

A satellite image released by NASA Goddard Rapid Response on Friday shows Cyclone Winston in the South Pacific Ocean.
A satellite image released by NASA Goddard Rapid Response on Friday shows Cyclone Winston in the South Pacific Ocean.

A historic tropical cyclone slammed into the island nation of Fiji on Saturday.

Tropical Cyclone Winston is believed to be the strongest storm to ever hit Fiji, according to multiple weather watchers. It's classified as category 5 — the highest level.

The cyclone tore across the northern coast of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu, ripping the roofs off houses, flooding buildings and downing power lines and trees, The Fiji Times reported.

The Fiji Meteorological Service and local media reports indicate the eye of the storm has now moved past Fiji, though strong, destructive winds continue to hit Viti Levu. A flood warning remains in effectfor multiple low-lying areas.

The Fijian government declared a nationwide curfew starting at 6 p.m. on Saturday. It also announced a 30-day state of natural disaster for the entire island nation.

Sustained winds reached speeds of 140 miles per hour, with gusts clocking in at more than 200 miles per hour, according to the United Nations.

As The Associated Press reports, Fiji's capital Suva, which is "located in the southern part of the main island, was experiencing high winds but was not directly in the cyclone's path. The popular tourist resorts in Viti Levu's west, however, were closer to the cyclone's center."

The extent of the damage across the country was not immediately clear.

Fiji residents flooded to more than 700 evacuation centers set up in preparation for the storm.

And as it began, Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama released a statement urging citizens to prepare for the "assault." He says: "I am especially concerned that some people in urban areas in particular do not appear to have heeded the warnings about the seriousness of the threat we all face." He urged people to stay indoors.

A storm like this is rare in Fiji. Meteorologist Jonathan Erdman told The Weather Channel that "according to NOAA's Historical Hurricane Tracks database, only 12 tropical cyclones of at least Category 1 equivalent intensity have tracked within 100 miles of Fiji's capital and largest city, Suva, since 1972."

Take a look at this video gathered from around the country by Fiji Broadcasting Corporation's Jacquee Speight:

A resident of Tokou village on the Ovalu Island told the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation that tidal waves were crashing into their houses.

The resident, Teresia Heritage, said "at the moment Tokou looks like an ocean however it is fortunate there there has been no loss of life or injuries."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: February 22, 2016 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous version of this post incorrectly referred to Fiji's main island as Vita Levu. It is Viti Levu.
Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.