More than 850,000 Fijians were trapped in inky darkness on Thursday, hunkered down against the ravages of Tropical Cyclone Yasa, which slammed ashore around 8 PM local time bearing average windspeeds of 250 kilometres per hour, towering storm surges, and the siren call of a climate emergency.
Reaching out to his people via Twitter, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama wrote that over 95% of Fiji’s people would be affected by the storm. “Prepare, take cover, take care, and #PrayforFiji,” he tweeted. Responding to this prayer, meteorologist and climate activist Eric Holthaus tweeted that Fiji will need the world’s help to recover from Cyclone Yasa.
“We are in a climate emergency,” he wrote. “In the past four years, Fiji has dealt with Cyclone Winston, Cyclone Harold, and now Cyclone Yasa. All Category 4-plus. The people who have done the least to cause climate change are bearing the worst of the burdens.”
In preparation for the coming burdens of this storm, Fiji declared a 30-day “state of natural disaster,” granting both police and the military special powers to aid in the protection of people and property. The country’s National Disaster Management Office explained that the declaration would also empower the distribution of relief supplies and shelter, and help prevent any efforts to profit from the crisis. Fines or imprisonment could be levied against offenders, the office added.
Reporting on Yasa 90 minutes before the cyclone was due to make landfall, the New Zealand Herald wrote that the Category 5 storm, “currently the strongest on the planet,” was already gusting as high as 350 kilometres per hour near its centre.
On Thursday, local media outlet FijiVillage reported expectations that Yasa would remain over Fiji’s major northern island of Vanua Levu for three to six hours, and that the area could “expect very destructive hurricane force winds up to 240 kilometres per hour, with momentary gusts of up to 345 kilometres per hour, periods of heavy rain, and squally thunderstorms.” It also warned of flash flooding in low-lying areas, storm surges, pounding rain, landslides, “phenomenal seas,” and damaging waves.
Reporting on the cyclone’s evolution earlier in the week, The Guardian wrote that Yasa, together with its less intense twin, Zazu, are the first storms to emerge in this year’s South Pacific cyclone season, which is expected to run until May.
Noting that Yasa will make landfall less than nine months after Cyclone Harold ravaged Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu in April, the UK news outlet added that “such strong cyclones were once rare but have become increasingly common in recent years.”