SUVA, Fiji (AP) — Thousands of Fiji villagers fled to shelters as a tropical cyclone battered the South Pacific nation, causing flooding, damaging homes and power lines, and killing three people, officials said Tuesday.
Cyclone Mick, Fiji’s first this summer season, ripped through the most populated island of Viti Levu on Monday night and is headed toward Tonga, which has been placed on alert.
Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office said the death and injury toll was reduced by people heeding the cyclone warning and flocking to emergency shelters ahead of the storm.
“People took evasive action … took the warning seriously and moved to shelters because their homes were not strong enough and also because they feared the flood waters,” the agency’s principal officer, Patiliai Dobui, told The Associated Press.
Some 3,000 people had sought shelter ahead of the damaging winds and torrential rains, but by late Tuesday most had returned to their homes, he said.
Fiji’s Meteorological Service said winds gusting up to 95 miles (150 kilometers) an hour were recorded close to the Category 2 cyclone’s epicenter, with winds averaging 60 to 70 mph (90 to 110 kph). Category 1 is the lowest cyclone rating, Category 5 the highest.
Mick was a “very vicious” cyclone with damaging gale force winds that struck up to six hours earlier than expected, said Tim Sutton, of the U.N. Children’s Fund (Unicef), who is based in Suva.
“There’s a lot of damage. Lots of trees down, power lines down everywhere, all the roads around Viti Levu are still closed with flooding and landslides,” he told New Zealand’s National Radio.
On the west coast of Viti Levu, two people were swept away in the Sigatoka River, while a student from Drala village in the Nadarivatu highlands died instantly when a tree fell on him.
Tourists on the Yasawa and Mamanuca islands northwest of Viti Levu were reported safe, but Octopus Resort was forced to close because of damage.
Dobui said the disaster management office had still not heard from some small outer islands after contact was lost during the storm. Fiji is an archipelago of more than 320 islands.