Cyclone Winston slams Fiji islanders with record winds

The Fijian government declared a state of disaster and urged people to take safety precautions.

Jonacani Lalakobau/Fiji Times/AP
A tree blocks a road after being blown down by cyclone Winston in Nakasi, Fiji, Saturday. The Pacific island nation of Fiji is hunkering down as a formidable cyclone with winds of 300 kilometers (186 miles) per hour approaches.

At least one man is believed dead after tropical cyclone Winston, the strongest recorded tropical storm to ever make landfall in Fiji, tore through the Pacific island, knocking out power and communications throughout the archipelago on Saturday.

Fijian officials declared a state of disaster for 30 days beginning Saturday, then posted an urgent public announcement on its Facebook page urging people to take restrict movements and stay indoors, reported the New Zealand Herald, until fallen trees are cleared and power lines restored.

The Fiji Meteorological Service reported that the cyclone has average winds of 135 miles per hour and gusts up to 180 miles per hour, which is a Category 5 cyclone on the Australian scale and equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean.

By Saturday afternoon local time, it had become the strongest tropical cyclone on record in the Southern Hemisphere with maximum winds peaking at 185 mph, as estimated by the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center, according to Colorado State University tropical scientist, Dr. Phil Klotzbach.

Several flights were cancelled. Officials from Australia and New Zealand urged citizens stuck in Fiji to register with their respective embassies.

“I want to assure the nation that the government is thoroughly prepared to deal with this crisis. Our evacuation centers are fully operational,” said Voreqe Bainimarama. “And if you have any doubts about the ability of your own home to withstand the onslaught, I urge you to seek shelter where you are most likely to be safe and our officials can assist you."

Emergency personnel mobilized around the island nation as the cyclone approached.

"We are well organized and prepared," said Eseroma Ledua, operations manager of the Fiji Red Cross. "We have pre-positioned relief items sufficient for 12,000 people in our headquarters in Suva and have mobilized over 300 staff and volunteers across our 14 branches nationwide."

Red Cross officials urged residents not to panic.

“The path of this storm is very unpredictable, but based on our experience of responding to cyclone Pam when it struck Vanuatu last year,  we know what to expect from a storm of this severity,” said Martin Faller, director of pperations for the IFRC in Asia Pacific.

“Many people will suffer damage to their homes, their livelihoods ... and in rural areas it’s likely that their water supply will be disrupted. We stand ready to support the Fiji Red Cross in helping those affected.”

Meanwhile, video footage has emerged showing a Spanish rugby team helping a Fijian resort prepare for the massive cyclone. James Pridgeon, the general manager of the resort posted on Facebook: "Very lucky to have to Spanish Men's Rugby 7s team at the hotel to help restack what sandbags we can! Ocean is relentless!"

"They dropped everything, got out there and put their boots down and helped with the sandbagging," Mr. Pridgeon told NBC News. "They didn't put their safety first. They kept us safe instead."

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