Fiji cyclone kills at least 2, destroys dozens of homes

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SUVA, Fiji (AP) — A powerful cyclone hit Fiji overnight, killing at least two people and destroying dozens of homes in the Pacific island nation, authorities said Friday.

While Cyclone Yasa was terrifying for those in its path, there was a sense of relief in other parts of the country that the devastation wasn’t as widespread as many had feared.

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said in a video message that those confirmed dead were a 3-month-old baby and a man in his mid-40s.

“The dust is yet to settle,” Bainimarama said. “But we are likely looking at hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.”

He said the cyclone hit with wind gusts of up to 345 kilometers (214 miles) per hour.

FBC News reported the man who died was a farmer who was sheltering from the cyclone in his home on the island of Vanua Levu when part of his house fell on him, also injuring his eldest son.

Richard Markham, the co-owner of KokoMana, a small company that makes chocolate on a farm on the island, said there were broken trees everywhere and the power was out.

“I went out this morning to visit some of our staff a mile from where I live. It was devastation,” he said. “The hillsides and the fields are strewn with ripped off roofing iron. It’s pretty shocking.”

The storm destroyed many homes on the island, which is Fiji’s second largest.

Saras Wati, a resident of a town hit by the cyclone, said it ripped the roof off her home.

“The house was shaking up and down. It was shaking so bad. All of a sudden the roof came up,” Wati said. “We ran out of the house.”

Wati said the house is soaked but her family is trying to stay there, squeezed into one bedroom.

The eye of the storm moved through Vanua Levu from about 6 p.m. Thursday. It missed the capital city, Suva, and the major tourist hub of Nadi on Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu.

Authorities said the cyclone was weakening Friday as it moved southeast over some of Fiji’s outer islands.

However, they warned of danger from flooding. Fiji’s government said the Rewa River was rising, with rain continuing intermittently. The Rewa skirts Suva and runs through Nausori, where Suva’s airport is located.

Many had worried the storm could rival the destruction caused by Cyclone Winston, which killed 44 people and caused widespread damage in 2016.

The Fiji Times newspaper reported Yasa destroyed about 20 homes and a community hall in the village of Tiliva and that homes in other villages had also been damaged or destroyed.

Authorities had warned the cyclone would hit with sustained winds of up to 250 kph (155 mph). But by Friday, the cyclone’s winds had dropped to about half that speed.

The storm prompted more than 20,000 people to move into government evacuation centers. It also downed power lines, cut communications, and caused flash flooding and road closures.

Before the cyclone hit, authorities had imposed an overnight curfew throughout the nation and declared a state of natural disaster. They were imposing another curfew Friday night.

Located about one-third of the way from New Zealand to Hawaii, Fiji has a population of about 930,000.

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