21 Dec 2020

Cyclone Yasa aftermath: 'widespread destruction'

5:28 am on 21 December 2020

Tropical cyclone Yasa has dropped to a category 1, but four people are confirmed dead, and an aid worker says it has left some islands looking like a warzone.

A photo taken on Saturday by the Red Cross of damage to a house on Vanua Levu, after the cyclone moved south.

Photo: AFP/Fiji Red Cross

While the cyclone had weakened to a category 1 during Saturday afternoon, the disaster management office confirmed the death toll had risen to four. And it had caused widespread damage since hitting Fiji on Friday, particularly in the northern areas and the island of Vanua Levu.

Save the Children Fiji chief executive Shairana Ali said Kia Island, north of Vanua Levu had "basically been completely devastated".

"Judging by the pictures it looks like it's a warzone. We don't know yet if there are injuries," she said.

"The majority of the people are reporting that they have lost their livelihood, their source of livelihood."

Many of the northern islands, like Vanua Levu, were home to farming communities whose economy relied heavily on the land.

Ali said plants had been stripped away by the storm, "crops have been destroyed, and they've also lost their livestock."

People living on surrounding islands, in areas like Suva on the island of Viti Levu, were already starting to mobilise to help the people affected.

"There is a sense of care from those on Viti Levu," she said.

"Majority of people on this island, they're banding together now, there is a lot of appeals going up, people are organising relief items to be sent across immediately."

 A building on Vanua Levu that was flattened by Cyclone Yasa.

A building on Vanua Levu that was flattened by Cyclone Yasa. Photo: AFP/Red Cross

Neighbours on the worst affected islands were also supporting their neighbours, trying to provide shelter wherever they could.

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Photo: Fiji government

Authorities in Fiji hope to start distributing food aid and shelter to the cyclone-devastated northern division tomorrow.

The head of the national disaster management office, Vasiti Soko, said 16,000 people are in evacuation centres across the country.

She told a media briefing in Suva that assessment teams are out working today, but communication is proving difficult.

A New Zealand Air Force Orion has helped with today's assessments, and an Australian plane is due tomorrow. The United Nations is ready to deploy staff to the area and airlift supplies from Brisbane.

The New Zealand government's initial relief package will focus on making sure people have food, shelter and sanitation.

In Bua province on Vanua Levu the roof was blown off a school that was sheltering about 100 people, the Bua Youth Network said.

Filimoni Tuvanualevu, the president of the group, lives in Suva but is helping organise efforts to send relief supplies back to Bua.

Donations were already coming in, including, food and sanitary items and chainsaws, that would be send to the province on the first available flight.

"We've received a lot of support from our social media pages, from people who are wanting to give donations and such, and money and items, and we are letting them know what items we are aiming to provide and what services, just so we don't overlap with what's already been taken care of. "

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the evacuation centres will remain open as long as necessary.

"These storms may be getting stronger, but they will never be stronger than we are. Resilience is in our bones, we will recover, we will rebuild, we will prove ourselves stronger than Yasa. Stay strong Fiji."

Ali said Save the Children were also developing a response plan, and hoped to have teams on boats tomorrow headed for places like Vanua Levu.

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MetService expects cyclone Yasa to weaken as it moves over Fiji today. Photo: MetService

Yasa was assessed as a category 4 tropical cyclone this morning, when it was about 250km east of Suva, MetService said.

It tracked south over the Lau group of islands during the day. And by mid-afternoon the Fiji Meteorological Service said it fell to a category 1.

It was still expected to remain to the west of Tonga later today and tomorrow. During Sunday, Yasa is likely to move south away from any Pacific islands, while losing intensity.

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