Tropical Cyclone Yasa made landfall in Fiji Thursday afternoon local time, hitting Vanua Levu island with winds of 240 km / h (149 mph) equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane on the Sapphire Simpson Hurricane Scale. This is the second time this year that the Fiji archipelago has descended straight from a major tropical cyclone.
And local officials warned that the potential impact of the storm could be devastating.
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said in a video posted on Facebook that the country has ordered a 14-hour curfew to be imposed nationwide from 4 p.m. (10 p.m. ET Wednesday) while urging people living in low-lying areas to move to higher ground before dark. .
“The impact of this tremendous storm is to some extent the entire country,” Bainimarama said in the video.
The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that even well-built homes can face “massive damage” from winds greater than 200 kilometers per hour (124 mph), while trees and utility poles can fall, causing In more destruction and disruption.
Bainimarama said Yasa would “easily exceed” the strength of Hurricane Winston of 2016, referring to the most severe tropical storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, which has killed more than 40 Fiji and left tens of thousands of people homeless.
More than 850,000 Fijians, or 95% of the population, live in the direct path of Yasa, Bainimarama said, adding that the weather forecasts predicted flash floods and “severe coastal floods” that included waves up to 10 meters (33 feet) high.
The country’s National Disaster Management Bureau said the police would impose a ban on public transportation, adding that the country had declared a “state of natural disaster” giving law enforcement authorities increased powers.
By 8 p.m. (2 a.m. ET) on Thursday, the Yasawa center was expected to be 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Yasawa E Rara village and likely to be Fiji’s fifth most populous county, which It is inhabited by 15,000 people. The office said.
Powerful hurricanes have become increasingly common in the Pacific in recent years, something Bainimarama attributed to climate change. Earlier this year, he said global warming was the cause of worsening bushfires in Australia as well as severe storms in the Pacific.
“My fellow Fijians, as the world gets warmer, these storms are getting stronger,” Bainimarama wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday. “Each of us must take these climate-induced disasters with deadly seriousness.”
Co-reporting by CNN’s Angus Watson and meteorologist Taylor Ward.