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Powerful cyclone tears into Pacific island nation of Fiji

Tropical cyclone Winston has hit the island chain of Fiji with powerful winds and torrential rains. The country has declared a curfew and state of disaster ahead of the Category 5 storm.

Severe tropical cyclone Winston made landfall throughout the archipelago of Fiji on Saturday, with residents hunkering down amid gusting winds and flooding.

"As a nation, we are facing an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We must stick together as a people and look after each other," wrote Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama in a post on Facebook. The government already imposed a 6pm curfew and advised residents to remain inside.

"I want to assure the nation that the government is thoroughly prepared to deal with this crisis," Bainimarama continued, saying he was concerned that some were not taking the weather threat seriously enough.

With average winds of 220 kilometers (136 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 315 kilometers per hour, Winston was forecast to hit the main island Viti Levu overnight (local time) on Saturday, according to the Fiji meteorological office.

Historic storm

"Tropical Cyclone Winston is now the strongest tropical cyclone and the first Category 5 TC on record to hit Fiji," wrote Lisa Murray, a meteorologist at New Zealand's MetService.

Fiji's capital, Suva, located in the southern part of the main island, was experiencing high winds but was not directly in the cyclone's path. The popular tourist resorts in Viti Levu's west, however, were closer to the cyclone's center.

State of disaster

Locals and tourists on Fiji's islands posted pictures of downed power lines and flooded roads on Saturday. Authorities said 700 evacuation shelters have been set up across the island nation of 900,000 people.

"I've never seen such a strong cyclone as this one in 60 years," local resident Zalim Hussein told news agency AFP over the phone.

"This is a monster cyclone, without doubt the strongest we've ever experienced. We're all very scared and hope it goes away quickly."

Winston has been moving around the South Pacific for a week, edging around Vanuatu and Tonga, and has previously taken aim at Fiji before falling back.

Cyclones are common in the South Pacific. Some of the storms are capable of causing major devastation, while others blow themselves out with relatively little damage to inhabitants.

rs/jm (AP, AFP, dpa)

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