According to Fiji's National Disaster Management Office the death toll on the island nation has risen to 21 after Cyclone Winston reached Category 5 level on Monday before making a direct hit with winds up to 180 miles per hour.
It's feared that death toll number will rise as communications with many of Fiji's remote outer islands are restored. The government has declared a 30 day state of emergency and efforts are now underway to get to the hardest hit areas, which are believed to be in the western and northern regions, including Rakiraki, Tavua, Ba and the northern division Vanua Levu, as well as Savusavu and the outerlying islands.
Aerial surveillance has confirmed hundreds of homes have been destroyed with concerns that the final number could increase into the thousands. Certainly many Fijians will be sleeping without shelter in the days ahead until rescue efforts reach them. Fortunately, Fiji's primary airport has already been reopened allowing international relief efforts to ramp up.
In the southern region, the capital city of Suva missed the direct hit and damage was minimal. Meanwhile, guests on on Tavarua and Namotu were sent packing before the storm arrived, but not before they helped batten down the hatches.
Steven Chew, a former NSSA National Team member, and one of Tavarua's longtime guests, remained on the island through the storm, hunkering down with a skeleton crew who kept watch over the island resort that's been playing host to one of the WSL's most prestigious events since 1987.
Chew was busy posting on his Facebook page during the maelstrom, which came in two phases as the eye passed overhead. While nerves were certainly rattled during some of the stronger gusts both of the premiere island camps were spared major damage.
In the aftermath of the storm, WSL CEO Paul Speaker released a statement, "The WSL's thoughts are with our friends and family in Fiji right now. It's a place of unparalleled beauty and a people of unmatched warmth. Our hearts go out to those who have been affected."
The WSL is already contacting local Fijian communities to assist in relief efforts for their friends and neighbors hit hardest by the storm. As plans become clear, we'll be sure to update fans on ways they can help.