Fiji + 1 more

Fifteen dead after Cyclone Ami rips through Fiji

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Cyclone Ami tore through the South Pacific nation of Fiji early this week, and at least fifteen people are confirmed dead.
Storm winds in excess of 115 mph roared across the island nation's northern perimeter on Jan. 14, even striking one of Fiji's major tourist areas, Vanua Levu.

Police inspector Unaisi Vuniwaqa told Reuters that among the dead was a two-year-old girl who was torn from her mother's arms while fleeing the driving downpour and violent winds.

Nine family members were also killed when they were carried away by flashfloods while trying to flee their home near a river outside Labasa.

"Suddenly a lot of water came through. . . and my whole family was washed away," Kissum Dutt, one of four surviving family members, told Fiji TV.

"When we were washed away, I hung onto branches," said the 62-year-old man. "Six miles downstream I managed to save myself when I held on to a tree in the river."

Officials stated that many low-lying areas in the southeast of the former British colony still had to be surveyed, which could cause the death toll to rise.

Sugar plantations and other cultivated fields were stripped by the storm, and it also wrecked villages and dumped mud more than four feet deep into streets and the ground floors of buildings.

Survivors said they had no food or drinking water while health authorities braced for outbreaks of dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases.

"People are traumatized," Alison Cupit, Director General of the Fiji Red Cross told the Taiwan News. "There is a desperate need for fresh water in many parts which have experienced flooding."

With an immense network of volunteers, the Fiji Red Cross has assisted more than 20,000 victims of Cyclone Ami. Relief items, including food, clothing, blankets, cooking utensils and more, have arrived by the truckload to the hardest hit regions.

"We are stepping up our relief efforts to reach an additional 40,000 people," said Cupit. "We will be bringing fresh water supplies in over the weekend."

Damage estimates for Ami are already in the millions of dollars in some areas of the poor South Pacific nation.

After ripping through Vanua Levu and the Lau group of islands to the southeast, Ami swept past Tonga on Wednesday (Jan 15), sparing the island system the full force of its fury but grounding Tonga's main ferry, before heading south into empty waters.

The cyclone was the second to hit the South Pacific in recent weeks after the much stronger Cyclone Zoe pounded remote islands in the Solomons chain with 186 mph winds just before the new year.

Weather forecasters said the region should brace for more storms this year because of the El Niño weather pattern, which brings unusually warm sea surface temperatures to the area.

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