Deaths due to Cyclone Winston in Fiji rose to at least 21 on Monday, as rescue workers warned the number of dead could rise, according to media reports. The storm reached land Saturday. It was the strongest tropical cyclone, as the first recorded Category 5 storm, on record for the Southern Hemisphere. An additional four people are still missing at sea.
More than 8,000 people sought refuge in 50-plus evacuation centers around the Pacific island nation, The Fiji Times reported.
Communications were temporarily lost with at least six islands. Approximately 80 percent of the nation's 900,000 people lost power.
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama called for officials to deploy resources to affected areas immediately. The government appealed for donations for Fijians left homeless by the cyclone, reports USA Today.
"There are Fijians out there who are without water, without a roof over their heads, without food and without essential services," Bainimarama said in comments posted to the government's Facebook page. "It is our duty to determine their needs and provide them with the support they need as soon as possible."
U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center representatives stated gusts from Cyclone Winston reached 224 mph as it swept through the archipelago, reports Associated Press.
Before Winston, the strongest storm to impact the main islands since records began in 1941 was Evan in December 2012, which skirted the western coast of Viti Levu as a Category 4 system on both the Australian scale and the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale. Also before Winston, according to online sources, the strongest storm to make landfall on either Viti Levu or Vanua Levu was Nigel in 1985, with 10-minute sustained winds of 90 mph, and 1-minute sustained winds of 120 mph.
All school officials across Fiji suspended classes for a week due to the severe damage to the educational infrastructure.
New Zealand and Australian government officials set aside funds to the High Commission of the Republic of the Fiji Islands in preparation for relief efforts, supplies and immediate relief measures. Efforts this week will turn toward trying to avert health crises.