A nationwide curfew was declared in Fiji after Cyclone Winston left at least five people dead. Hundreds of homes were destroyed as the country was battered by winds of over 320kmph (200mph) and huge waves of up to 12m (40ft). An elderly man from Nabasov on the island of Koro died after his house collapsed. He had reportedly tried to escape but was killed when the roof fell in on him.

The Category 5 storm – the highest level – travelled westward since making landfall on Saturday 20 February at Viti Levu, the main island. The capital Suva was spared from the brunt of the storm as the cyclone changed direction at the last minute.

The government has opened around 750 evacuation centres and over 1,000 people have sought refuge in one centre on the second largest island of Vanua Levu, the Fiji Broadcasting company said.

Jone Tuiipelehaki of the UN Development Programme stated that 50 homes in Navaga village on Koro Island had been reported demolished.

"The images that we're starting to see roll in are terrifying," Alice Clements, from the UN children's organisation Unicef in Suva told Reuters news agency. She reported seeing a car on a building roof and a small plane stuck in debris.

George Dregaso, of Fiji's National Disaster Management Office, told AP that about 80% of the nation's 900,000 people were without regular electricity supplies. Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama described the storm on Saturday as "an ordeal of the most grievous kind".

"When we are able we will provide timelines for the return of water and power," he said.

Red Cross Pacific office head Ahmad Sami told AFP news agency humanitarian needs were likely to be very high, with fears of a growing health crisis. Lack of power supplies means that pumps cannot be used for sterilisation.

Businessman Jay Dayal said: "I wouldn't be surprised if people are now starting to go without food," he told Reuters. "It looks like a different country, it doesn't look like Fiji."

The cyclone has now moved out to sea, although powerful winds and torrential rains remained likely, Fiji's Meteorological Office said.