Two casualties have been confirmed, according to the Fiji National Office of Disaster Management. This number is expected to increase.
Hurricane Yasa, a category 5 storm, struck Boa County on the northern island of Vanua Levu Thursday evening, causing torrential rains, widespread flooding and winds of up to 285 kilometers per hour (177 mph) across the archipelago.
Fiji on Thursday declared a state of natural disaster, ordering all of its roughly one million residents to seek shelter, and imposing a night curfew.
The warning was largely heeded, and as a result, humanitarian organizations said it appeared that the initial impact of Cyclone Yasa was less than originally feared, although it remains widespread.
“We are extremely concerned for the safety of the thousands of people who have suffered the brunt of this brutal storm,” Elisabichi Rokotonido, Director-General of the Fiji Red Cross Society, said in a statement on Friday. “Initial reports from volunteers reveal devastation in Boa, a province on the island of Vanua Levu. Coastal areas of several islands were affected by storms and floods at the height of the storm.”
Pictures circulated on social media showed that roads were closed due to landslides, flood waters and fallen trees. The Fiji Road Authority said all roads in Rakiraki were flooded, an area on the main island inhabited by about 30,000 people.
“Communities need immediate help,” Shirana Ali, chief executive of Save the Children in Fiji, told CNN. “Some families mentioned that they lost everything.”
Ali said that some families lost all their food during the storm. “They had water and biscuits for breakfast,” she said. “Our main concern is to ensure that people, especially children, have access to adequate food and clean water.”
Authorities remain concerned about the torrential downpours that Hurricane Yasa bought, although the strength of the storm has weakened and is now just a Category 2 as it moves south across the island chain.
However, bad weather impeded efforts by aid groups to send aid, as waves of more than 3 meters (10 feet) prevented ships from leaving Suva.
Powerful hurricanes have become increasingly common in the Pacific in recent years, something that Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and environmental organizations have taken to climate change.
“This is not normal,” Benemara wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “This is a climate emergency.”
Genevieve Giva, Fiji’s 350-based environmental NGO, said in a statement on Friday that Fijians were “literally fighting for our survival”.
“Villages, homes and crops were destroyed as the Christmas season approaches. Instead of celebrating, we are now focusing on rebuilding our lives,” she said. “This is why I fight for climate justice.”