The Pacific State of Fiji has begun the arduous task of cleaning up after the strongest ever storm in the Southern Hemisphere. Cyclone Winston, packing winds of over 300 kmph, lashed the island nation on Saturday and Sunday, leaving at least 21 dead and four missing amid a trail of devastation.
UNOCHA, the United Nations coordinating body, reports that at least 1,200 people are in evacuation centres in the Central and Eastern divisions. That number is likely to be higher as data is in from only 20 of 68 evacuation centres. No figures have yet come in from the Northern and Western divisions.
Damage from Storm Winston is reportedly extensive in the East, power is out over most of the country, and a curfew is in place. A 30-day state of emergency has been declared, and the government has appealed for international assistance, due to “the very serious devastation caused”.
IOM is preparing to assist as needed and has allocated USD 200,000 from its Migration Emergency Funding Mechanism to help with immediate disaster assessments and response.
“It is important that we respond quickly, given the widespread damage and destruction we are seeing,” said IOM Director General Ambassador William Lacy Swing. “This will help the Government of Fiji expedite an urgent response and assure them of our solidarity.” The organization is standing by to deploy staff from other missions in the region.
Reports from the capital Suva said that the storm was terrifying, even though the town did not take a direct hit. “I’ve never heard anything like the noise of the cyclone. We kept expecting to hear trees crashing down on roofs. That didn’t happen here, but I’ve just been out and saw many big trees uprooted and power lines down,” said one aid worker.
She confirmed that two boarding schools on the east coast, where Winston made landfall, had been destroyed and all the pupils evacuated. “Our power and water are back – Suva’s services have largely been restored and thankfully everyone around here seems fine,” she added.
IOM Asia-Pacific emergency specialist Andrew Lind said that information is still scant about the needs of Fijians affected. “We know that hundreds of homes have been damaged and that there are many injured people. Based on past experience, it is highly likely that access to drinking water, food supplies, shelter, healthcare and telecommunications will be compromised. It will be crucial for humanitarian partners to help the government to get information – as well as material aid - to the affected population,” he said.
For more information please contact IOM’s Regional Office for Asia-Pacific in Bangkok. Andrew Lind, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: +66.614027877 or Joe Lowry, Email: email@example.com; Tel. +66.818708081. Or Katy Barwise at IOM Canberra, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Tel. +61.476842939.