Image: A service station lays in ruin after Cyclone Winston swept through the town of Ba on Fiji’s Viti Levu Island. REUTERS/Jay Dayal
By Jane Wardell
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Fijian authorities were still trying to reach remote areas of the country’s archipelago on Tuesday to assess the damage, two days after a powerful cyclone tore through the Pacific island nation, killing at least 29 people.
There are fears the death toll could rise in the nation of 900,000 people when communication resumes with the smaller islands where thousands of people live in tin or wooden shacks in low-lying areas.
Aerial footage of outlying islands taken by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and posted on the Fiji government’s official website, showed whole villages flattened and flooded after tropical cyclone Winston tore through late on Saturday with wind gusts of up to 325 kph (200 mph).
Authorities have warned of “catastrophic” damage to Koro Island, Fiji’s seventh-largest island.
“I am concerned by the devastating impact on Fiji of Tropical Cyclone Winston,” Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations’ Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a statement after speaking with Fijian authorities.
“Whole villages have been destroyed, homes and crops have been damaged, power lines have been cut and more than 8,100 people are currently sheltering in over 70 evacuation centers.”
The Fijian government said it would send boats to remote locations in the archipelego of 300 islands on Tuesday to provide urgent aid, amid growing fears of a widespread health crisis following destruction of crops and tainted water supplies.
An Australian government emergency response team arrived in Fiji overnight over the main airport at Nadi was reopened. An aeromedical evacuation team is being sent to the outer islands on Tuesday to provide urgent support and supplies, including water and hygiene kits, medicines and access to shelter.
Both Australia and New Zealand are deploying aerial surveillance flights on Tuesday.
Food and water supplies are a growing concern even in areas such as the capital of Suva that did not suffer as much damage as the more remote regions. The Consumer Council of Fiji has urged traders not to sell food and other perishable items that have gone bad due to the effects of the cyclone.
Winston has weakened to a tropical storm as it heads toward Vanuatu, which was devastated almost a year ago by Category 5 Cyclone Pam.
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