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The strongest recorded tropical storm ever to make landfall in the Pacific Island nation of Fiji killed at least one person and knocked out power and communications throughout the archipelago on Saturday.
Gusts from the Tropical Cyclone Winston hit 224 mph, and the storm packed sustained winds of 185 mph, according to the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
The storm was the first Category 5 tropical cyclone to ever hit Fiji and its peak winds made it the strongest tropical cyclone of record in the Southern Hemisphere, Dr. Phil Klotzbach, a Colorado State University tropical scientist, told Weather.com.
Fijian officials told Reuters that an elderly man was killed when his roof fell on him during the storm. There were no other immediate reports of fatalities, Judith B. Cefkin, U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, told NBC News.
But “there is considerable damage,” she said. “Downed trees and branches, downed wires, power is out.”
Cefkin said a "total public curfew" that had been put into effect across the country by the National Disaster Management ahead of the storm making landfall was still in effect Sunday afternoon (7 p.m. ET).
Raijeli Nicole, the regional director for Oxfam in the Pacific, told NBC News that power went out in the capital city of Suva, where she is based, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (2:30 a.m. ET). “It is unnerving to experience a cyclone in the dark,” she said. “The roaring wind — it was relentless with the torrential rain.”
Nicole said she was most concerned about people who live in rural areas, where homes are less sturdy. “I have family all over the island and one of my cousins is stranded,” she said.
Aid groups said it could take more than a day to reach some of those areas. UNICEF said smaller, remote islands probably suffered the most.
Fiji's Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said in a Facebook post Saturday that the island's evacuation centers were operational, and the government was prepared to deal with a potential crisis.
"As a nation, we are facing an ordeal of the most grievous kind," he said. "We must stick together as a people and look after each other."
Bainimarama The government also declared a 30-day "state of natural disaster" covering the whole country.
Domestic and international flights were canceled and authorities were urged people to secure their homes and not venture outside.
Schools would be closed for a week, authorities said Sunday.
The Red Cross said it set up 80 evacuation centers, with relief supplies available for 12,00 people and 300 staff members and volunteers working to help anyone affected by the cyclone.
The Red Cross told people in low-lying areas to take extreme caution because the heavy rains would likely cause flash flooding.
“Many people will suffer damage to their homes, their livelihoods will be disrupted and in rural areas it’s likely that their water supply will be disrupted. We stand ready to support the Fiji Red Cross in helping those affected,” said Martin Faller, Director of Operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Asia Pacific.
The Fiji Times reported some damage, including a roof being blown off one home, from some of the nation's smaller islands to the east as the cyclone began to strike there.
The newspaper said there had been a run on supermarkets and stores as people stocked up on essential supplies and that a 5 p.m. curfew had been placed on all public transportation, including busses, minibuses and taxis.
Fiji is home to about 900,000 people.
Mohammed Nazeem Kasim, a 27-year-old press officer for the European Union for the Pacific, said the storm was “terrifying.”
“I thought we were all going to die,” he said. “I look out my window I saw trees flying like papers … branches flying around like papers.”
Kasim, who has lived in Fiji his whole life, said he was worried that his house wouldn’t survive the lashing, even though it’s sturdy. “I was feeling for the people who didn't have ... I mean people who didn't have strong houses to withstand this monster.”
Kasim added that he was awake all night as the storm uprooted trees and toppled billboards. “How can you sleep when you have a monster hovering over your house?” he said.