(DIYA TV) — The most powerful cyclone to hit the Pacific made its way through Fiji over the weekend, leaving residents with the grimly task of assessing the damages and begin cleaning up. At least 20 people have been reported dead in the aftermath of Cyclone Winston.

Officials said Sunday current efforts are being focused on reestablishing communications and road access to the hardest-hit areas of the islands — power, water and communication services must be restored for close to 900,000 residents. The full extent of damages and injuries won’t be known until that process is complete. A 30-day state of natural disaster was declared on the same day, curfews were extended and police were granted permission to make arrests without a warrant.

A beachside villa and trees lay destroyed following high winds caused by Cyclone Winston [Sarah Bingham/Reuters]
A beachside villa and trees lay destroyed following high winds caused by Cyclone Winston [Sarah Bingham/Reuters]

The cyclone rolled through the Fiji islands on Saturday with wind speeds estimated at up to 285km/h, or 177 mph. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, as well as many of the villagers crops. Of the hardest-hit areas was the northern coast of the main island, Viti Levu. In a separate village, Koro Island, 50 homes were reportedly destroyed.

An elderly man was killed during the cyclone after the roof of the house he was in collapsed. The Red Cross said there were unconfirmed reports of at least three more fatalities, and the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation has pegged the total death count so far at five. Several have speculated that the death count will increase when information is retrieved from the outlying islands and from so-called “squatter areas.” In these areas, hut-like structure house many residents, structures that would have unlikely withstood the impacts of the category 5 storm.

Alice Clements, of UNICEF Pacific, was in Fiji’s capital city, Suva, when the storm hit.

“We certainly felt the impact of…Winston in Suva with destructive, howling winds and the sound of rivets lifting from roofs a constant throughout the night,” she said.

“It is likely that smaller villages across Fiji will have suffered the most, given their infrastructures would be too weak to withstand the power of a category 5 cyclone.”

Early relief efforts have been hampered because of trees and power lines blocking the roads, and by power failures. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it had a response team on standby. The Bainimarama has not yet asked for help, the UN said.

Virgin and JetStar airlines have suspended all flights into and out of Fiji’s international airport, the international carrier has suspended all flights as well.