SUVA, Fiji – Tropical Cyclone Evan left a swathe of destruction across Fiji Tuesday, December 18, after battering the Pacific nation for more than 12 hours, destroying homes, flooding rivers and stranding thousands of tourists.
Despite the damage, officials said there were no reported fatalities as the storm headed out to sea early Tuesday and was downgraded a notch to category three.
Western parts of the main island Viti Levu bore the brunt of the cyclone’s fury overnight, with the Fiji Times describing the township of Lautoka as a “war zone”.
The information ministry said bridges were submerged by swollen rivers, high winds toppled power lines and roads were closed by landslides and debris.
Almost 8,500 locals sheltered from the cyclone in evacuation centers, while thousands of international tourists, many relocated from outlying islands for their own safety, rode out the storm in Viti Levu’s resorts.
Fairfax New Zealand journalist Marc Hinton, who was on vacation in Fiji when the cyclone hit, said the landscape was littered with bits of roof and debris after hurricane force winds lashed the area for more than 12 hours.
“Everyone was hunkered down, the winds were so strong last night you couldn’t even open your doors, it was over 200 kilometers per hour (125 mph),” he told the Dominion Post newspaper.
However, fears that Cyclone Evan would rival the deadly force of Cyclone Kina, which killed 23 people when it swept through Fiji in 1993, proved unfounded, largely due to extensive planning as the storm advanced.
Neighboring Samoa had no advance notice when Evan pummeled it late last week and officials there said Tuesday the official death toll had risen to five, with up to 10 people still missing.
The missing were aboard four fishing boats that failed to return to port last Friday and a New Zealand-led aerial search was called off Tuesday after finding no sign of the men.
“We are confident that the area has been thoroughly covered in difficult circumstances,” Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand spokesman Neville Blakemore said.
“This is obviously a tragic outcome for the families of the men involved and our thoughts are with them.”
Samoa’s Disaster Management Office (DMO) said almost 5,000 people were still in evacuation centers and power remained off in much of the country.
DMO spokeswoman Filomena Nelson said the damage caused by the storm, estimated by the government to cost $130 million, was more extensive than when a tsunami hit the country in 2009, killing 143 people.
“While the cost in lives has been less, the destruction is greater than the tsunami because it’s affected a far larger area,” she said. – Agence France-Presse