Fiji cyclone toll climbs

A service station that was destroyed when Cyclone Winston swept through the town of Ba on Fiji's...
A service station that was destroyed when Cyclone Winston swept through the town of Ba on Fiji's Viti Levu Island. Photo: Reuters
Parts of a remote Fijian village devastated by cyclone Winston. The New Zealand Defence Force...
Parts of a remote Fijian village devastated by cyclone Winston. The New Zealand Defence Force took this photograph during a surveillance flight on Monday. Photo: Reuters /NZDF
Men clear a road of a fallen tree in Suva. Photo: Reuters
Men clear a road of a fallen tree in Suva. Photo: Reuters

The death toll from Cyclone Winston in Fiji has risen to 20, with more people still unaccounted for after the devastating storm.

Indra Singh, the news manager at Radio Fiji said on Monday that includes seven people who were on a fishing boat that had gone missing.

The category 5 cyclone made landfall on Saturday, with wind gusts of up to 325kmh and average winds of 230kmh.  

Fears are mounting that the death toll could rise dramatically when communications with remote villages that bore the brunt of the tropical cyclone are restored.

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Aid agencies and Unicef are becoming increasingly concerned for those living in parts of the island nation that were directly under the eye of the storm and who have not been heard from since Saturday.

The Fijian Government has declared a state of disaster. On Monday, Winston was tracking west of Fiji; some computer models predict the storm's remnants could lie to the north of New Zealand by Friday.  

"The Fijians are desperately trying to repair severed lines of communication, but they hold grave fears that the news waiting for them will be dire," said Oxfam's Pacific regional director Raijeli Nicole.

"Given the intensity of the storm and the images we have seen so far, there are strong concerns that the death toll won't stop climbing today and that hundreds of people will have seen their homes and livelihoods completely destroyed."

Ms Nicole said communication blackspots were making it very hard to assess damage and determine the scale of the response required.

Oxfam was chiefly concerned about residents in the Lomaiviti Islands group who lived in makeshift houses and did not have the same protection as those living in urban centres.

Unicef said the entire nation was reeling after the weekend's events.

"The bulk of the country has been without power for 24 hours while some areas are also without water. The Government is rapidly working to assess the overall situation in order to pinpoint the critical needs," said Unicef New Zealand executive director Vivien Maidaborn.

While reports of varying degrees of damage were starting to filter out, little was known about how communities fared on the outer islands of Fiji that were directly under the eye of Winston.

Concerns remained, especially for children, pregnant women and lactating mothers across Fiji, who may have been adversely affected by this extreme weather event, said Ms Maidaborn.

All agencies were poised to deploy more staff into the region if needed.

New Zealand is to send another Defence Force flight to Fiji and provide an extra $1.8 million in funding, Foreign Minister Murray McCully announced on Monday. The new funding would bring the total contribution to relief efforts following Cyclone Winston to more than $2 million.

Curfew lifted 

Fiji's national curfew has been lifted and all public transport services will resume today, but the clean-up is just beginning for the island nation.

The Fiji Government confirmed 10 people had died in the western division. Two people drowned during storm surges and four were killed after being hit by flying debris. One man died after his house collapsed on him.

The Fiji Broadcasting Service said seven of the dead were from Ra, one was from Nadi, and one from Lautoka. Fears were held for seven fishermen from the Yasawa Islands reported missing at sea. They had gone out on Friday and had not been heard from since.

More than 4000 people were staying in 68 evacuation centres throughout Fiji.

Tourists and locals tried to stock up with supplies in advance. Windows were boarded up and foreigners hunkered down in hotel rooms. But Cyclone Winston ploughed through, ripping roofs from buildings, tearing trees and power poles out of the ground and leaving a trail of destruction.

Lower Nadi town was last night closed due to extensive floodwaters and roads blocked by landslides. Evacuation centres have been set up.

 

 

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