By Navinesh Kumar, IFRC
Tropical Cyclone Winston, the strongest recorded tropical storm to ever make landfall in Fiji is continuing on its path of destruction through the island nation.
The cyclone is proving to be very unpredictable and has tracked further north than expected over the past 24 hours. It is forecast to pass between Vanua Levu and the country’s main island of Viti Levu (population 650,000) overnight before heading towards the Yasawa and Mamanuca tourist islands to the country’s west on Sunday 21 February.
The category 5 cyclone is packing average wind speeds of 230 kph and although its current path avoids a direct impact on Fiji’s main cities, the emergency response team of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) based in Suva is reporting gale force winds in the country’s capital.
This afternoon the government declared a state of emergency. 80 evacuation centres have been prepared, roads are closed and a curfew is currently in place until Sunday morning to ensure the safety of the public.
The Fiji Red Cross Society is fully prepared and is on standby to work with the government to provide humanitarian assistance where it is needed. The IFRC is coordinating closely with the Fiji Red Cross and other regional partners on preparedness measures.
“We are well organised and prepared for Cyclone Winston,” said Eseroma Ledua, Operations Manager at the Fiji Red Cross. “We have prepositioned relief items sufficient for 12,000 people in our headquarters in Suva and have mobilised over 300 staff and volunteers across our 14 branches nationwide.”
Fiji’s Meteorological Office has issued a warning for heavy rains, which will likely cause flash flooding, and has requested people living in low-lying areas to move to higher ground or to the safety of evacuation centres. Coastal inundation is also likely as storm surges may push the sea inland several hundred metres, especially in areas close to the centre of the cyclone.
Red Cross volunteers have been disseminating warning messages to the public and are currently working in some of the evacuation centres where they will help to care for evacuees, assist with registering families, provide first aid, distribute relief items and trace any missing people.
“The path of this storm is very unpredictable but based on our experience of responding to Cyclone Pam when it struck Vanuatu last year, we know what to expect from a storm of this severity,” said Martin Faller, Director of Operations for the IFRC in Asia Pacific. “Many people will suffer damage to their homes, their livelihoods will be disrupted and in rural areas it’s likely that their water supply will be disrupted. We stand ready to support the Fiji Red Cross in helping those affected.”