Cyclone Ami rips through Fiji
Tropical Cyclone Ami pummeled villages in Fiji Monday (Jan. 13) with tidal waves, floodwaters and wind gusts up to 115 mph. Residents in nearby Tonga are now bracing for the brunt of the storm.
Two children are feared dead in a remote area of Fiji and hundreds of homes and buildings are destroyed. The Fijian government declared its second largest island, Vanua Levu, a natural disaster area.
"I have been informed that there was extensive damage to areas that were in the direct path of the cyclone," Fiji's Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase told the Melbourne Herald Sun. "It should take at least two days to complete an assessment."
Cyclone Ami formed on Jan, 12 and within 36 hours had swept over the islands of Rabi, Vanua Levu and Taveuni in Fiji's northern region before it continued churning toward Tonga.
Communication resources with the affected areas were lost, as powerful wind gusts and pounding rainfall persisted Tuesday.
Two children on Duradura Island who ran into a church for shelter have been missing since the building collapsed during the storm. Almost all the 60 inhabitants of Cruadrua were inside the church, but most managed to escape before the structure toppled.
Swamped with rising waters, the town of Labasa in the northern Fijan islands was especially hard hit and is home to 140,000 villagers and farmers.
Reports from the island of Lavau described residents fleeing into limestone caves to escape huge waves that were rolling over the island. Fiji's main tourist areas in the west of Viti Levu received heavy rains and winds, but no serious damage was recorded.
Fijian Navy ships and New Zealand Air Force planes have been readied to survey the region as soon as the weather clears. Humanitarian relief agencies are also staged for a disaster response operation.
"We have about 25 relief workers on Vanua Levu and they will begin working as soon as the winds die down enough to let them go outside," said Vuli Guana of the Fiji Red Cross.
In Tonga, officials warned residents that Cyclone Ami would pass just south of Tongatapu island with winds reaching 125 mph and sea surges surpassing 16 feet. Home to nearly 80,000 people, Tongatapu has few shelter resources for the islanders.
Rajendra Prasad, director of Fiji's cyclone center, told Australia's news.com that the storm was the worst to hit the area since 1987 when Cyclone Raja passed over the northern and eastern islands with winds of a similar force.
Early this month, inhabitants of remote regions of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific were found unharmed days after Cyclone Zoe hammered the area with 220 mph winds. Officials and residents are hoping for a similar survivor outcome in Fiji.