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Cyclone strikes Fiji, killing 6

/ Source: The Associated Press

A powerful cyclone pounded Fiji, killing six people, blowing the roofs off hundreds of houses and cutting power to the country's main islands, officials said Tuesday.

The six died on the main island of Viti Levu, police spokesman Cpl. Suliano Devida said.

Hundreds of people were moved to government shelters and schools as they fled their damaged houses and flooding caused by driving rain and winds gusting up to 88 miles per hour overnight Monday, emergency services said.

Tropical Cyclone Gene toppled electrical supply lines, cutting power late Monday to the two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, the electricity authority said. Power had been restored to much of Fiji except for suburban areas of the capital, Suva, by Tuesday, it said.

Fiji's Disaster Management Office reported widespread damage in western Viti Levu, where hundreds of houses lost their roofs.

Two electrical linesmen were killed when they were hit by falling high-voltage power lines near the western town of Lautoka, the Fiji Electricity Authority said.

One person drowned in a swollen creek in Suva, another died when a candle used during the power outage set fire to a house, and a woman died of injuries sustained during the storm, Devida said. Another victim was killed while fishing off Viti Levu, he added.

The cyclone was packing sustained winds of up to 60 mph as it passed southwest of Viti Levu early Tuesday.

Forecaster Robin Alipati said heavy rains over the next 24 hours were expected to cause flooding in Viti Levu and in island groups off the coast.

The storm was moving slowly westward Tuesday away from Fiji toward Vanuatu, where a cyclone alert was issued.