Cyclone Winston leaves path of destruction on Fiji

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6 are now confirmed dead, dozens injured, and towns wiped off the map as one of the strongest cyclones in history tears its way through Fiji.  The small island chain of more than 800,000 took a direct hit early Saturday, Minnesota time, with sustained winds at landfall of nearly 180 mph.  The cyclone (a southern hemisphere hurricane) was thankfully NOT a surprise as the forecast had Fiji in the bullseye more than 2 days ahead of time which likely saved lives as thousands were able to evacuate and head to high ground and shelters.

The northern side of the big island, along with some of the surrounding smaller islands took the brunt of the storm as the radar image above shows the exact moment Winston made landfall.  Here are some of the first images coming in from the Fijian government.

Trees stripped bare and many buildings destroyed as village after village on the northern side of the big island was destroyed by gusts likely topping 200 mph.  For a country that is well prepared for tropical cyclones because they are so common in this part of the world, it’s tough for anything or anyone to be prepared for winds of this magnitude.  A 30 day state of emergency has been put in place and a curfew remains in effect through Monday.  Roughly 80 percent of the island chains’ power is out with no estimates on when any or all of it could be restored.  The good news, the high resort areas of the capital Suva and the main international airport near Nadi were spared the worst as they were both on the southern side of the island.  Government officials told the Associated Press Sunday that all tourists are safe and accounted for.   The main international airport is open to emergency flights only, but airport authorities were hoping to have it at least partially open by early Monday local time.