At least three people were killed and thousands of villagers fled to shelters as a tropical cyclone battered the Fijian islands.
Cyclone Mick, Fiji’s first this summer season, ripped through the most populated island of Viti Levu last night and is now heading toward Tonga, which has been placed on alert.
Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office said the death and injury toll was reduced by people heeding the cyclone warning and flocking to emergency shelters ahead of the storm.
“People took evasive action ... took the warning seriously and moved to shelters because their homes were not strong enough and also because they feared the flood waters,” said the agency’s principal officer Patiliai Dobui.
Some 3,000 people had sought shelter ahead of the damaging winds and torrential rains, but today most had returned to their homes, he said.
Fiji’s Meteorological Service said winds gusting up to 95 miles (150 kilometres) an hour were recorded close to the Category 2 cyclone’s epicentre, with winds averaging 60 to 70 miles (90 to 110 kilometres) an hour. Category 1 is the lowest cyclone rating, Category 5 the highest.
Mick was a “very vicious” cyclone with damaging gale force winds that struck up to six hours earlier than expected, said Tim Sutton, of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), who is based in Suva.
“There’s a lot of damage. Lots of trees down, power lines down everywhere, all the roads around Viti Levu are still closed with flooding and landslides,” he told New Zealand’s National Radio.
On the west coast of Viti Levu, two people were swept away in the Sigatoka River, while a student from Drala village in the Nadarivatu highlands died instantly when a tree fell on him.
Mr Dobui said the disaster management office had still not heard from some small outer islands after contact was lost during the storm.