Fiji: 6 dead from ‘monster’ Cyclone Winston; schools shut down for a week

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NEW YORK — Six people were killed in Fiji when a record-breaking storm struck the island nation, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Sunday.

Authorities believe the brunt of Tropical Cyclone Winston, which struck Saturday night, has passed. Now comes the arduous task of assessing and cleaning up the damage inflicted by the most powerful storm on record in the Southern Hemisphere.

All Fiji’s schools will be closed for one week after the storm struck the island nation, the country’s Ministry of Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management said.

Winds that reached 296 kph (184 mph) lashed the tiny island nation in the Pacific, felling trees, knocking out power and causing heavy flooding, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center reported.

“Winston was a monster of a cyclone,” Fiji resident Nazeem Kasim told CNN. “I have not experienced anything like this before in my life, nor has my 60-year-old father.”

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama declared a state of emergency that will be in effect for 30 days, according to the Fiji Times.

A nationwide curfew remains in effect as emergency crews clear roads of downed trees and restore power. The curfew is expected to be lifted at 5:30 a.m. Monday. All civil servants were expected to return to work after the curfew is lifted.

Winston’s 184-mph winds smashed the previous record for a Southern Hemisphere cyclone. The old record of 178 mph was shared by Cyclone Zoe, which battered the Solomon Islands in 2002, and Cyclone Monica, which walloped Australia in 2006, according to Colorado State University hurricane expert Philip Klotzbach.

Had it occurred in the Atlantic, Winston would have been a Category 5 hurricane, but because of hemispheric nomenclature, it’s dubbed a cyclone. (In the Northwest Pacific, it would be a typhoon; all three are the same weather phenomenon.)

More than 1,200 people were in evacuation centers around the country, the disaster management ministry said.

Widespread flash flooding and coastal inundation — flooding in normally dry land — is likely, as storm surges push the sea inland.