SYDNEY (Reuters) – A powerful tropical cyclone battered the South Pacific island nation of Fiji on Wednesday, witnesses said, destroying buildings and causing injuries in Suva, the capital, pressuring a population already bracing for the coronavirus outbreak.
Cyclone Harold, its strength ranked in the highest category of five, passed over Fiji’s south at about midday, leveling homes and snapping communications links in the archipelago, which has adopted curbs on movement to rein in the virus.
“We’ve seen reports of injuries,” Vasiti Soko, the director of the National Disaster Management Office, said by telephone.
“As to the number, as well as the intensity, of the injuries, that’s yet to be ascertained.”
There were no immediate reports of deaths, but about 10 houses in Suva were reported destroyed, Soko added.
Flooded streets, wild winds and ruined buildings on the country’s main island home to Suva featured in unverified video images and photographs circulated on social media.
Emergency officials were scrambling to establish contact with the southern island of Kapavu, after the storm severed communications with it, Soko added.
The ferocious storm has cut a path through the Pacific, which is already on high alert for an outbreak of the flu-like virus that has infected 1.4 million people globally and killed 82,000.
Although Fiji has just 15 infections and no deaths, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has banned unnecessary gatherings of more than 20 people, among other curbs.
Bainimarama urged all Fijians to stay indoors unless told to evacuate.
“Our evacuation centers are safe, they are sanitized and monitored to ensure they do not surpass capacity,” he said in a social media posting on Wednesday.
“Those under quarantine due to the threat of coronavirus will not mix with others.”
The cyclone, which has killed dozens in the Solomon Islands before destroying buildings in Vanuatu, was expected to make its way to Tonga within days, weather forecasters said.