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Cyclone Yasa Leaves Extensive Damage but Few Casualties, Aid Agencies Say

The Bagata Crossing floods on Vunivesi Road in Savusavu, as Cyclone Yasa passes through Fiji, Dec. 17, 2020, in this photo obtained from social media.

Hurricane-force winds and torrential rain have destroyed scores of houses and flattened crops in Fiji's northern regions, aid agencies said Friday, though early assessments suggest minimal casualties.

Cyclone Yasa, a Category 5 storm, made landfall over Bua province on the northern island of Vanua Levu on Thursday evening, bringing heavy rain, widespread flooding and winds of up to 285 kph (177 mph) across the archipelago.

Fiji declared a state of natural disaster Thursday, ordered its entire population of nearly 1 million people to seek shelter and implemented a nightly curfew.

The alarm was largely heeded, and as a result, humanitarian groups said it appeared the initial impact of Cyclone Yasa was less than originally feared, though still extensive.

"Villages in Vanua Levu have lost a lot of houses. The wind has flattened many community buildings, and crops have been flattened," Fiji Red Cross Society Director-General Ilisapeci Rokotunidau told Reuters by phone from Suva, the country's capital.

"So far there is just one fatality that has been reported."

Images shared on social media showed roads blocked by landslides, floodwaters and fallen trees. All roads in Rakiraki, a district on the main island with about 30,000 residents, were flooded, Fiji's Road Authority said.

Authorities remain concerned about heavy rains bought by Cyclone Yasa, though the storm has weakened in strength and is now a Category 2 as it moves south across the island chain.

Still, the adverse weather has hampered efforts by aid groups to dispatch assistance, with waves of more than 3 meters (10 feet) preventing ships from leaving Suva.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said with treacherous conditions, the country's citizens must remain vigilant.

"#TeamFiji, we are not out of the woods yet, keep safe and adhere to weather warnings!!" Bainimarama tweeted on Friday.