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Fiji UPDATE: Death toll rises to 42; govt fears more

The death toll from super-cyclone Winston that hit Fiji on the weekend has reached 42, with reports emerging entire villages have been wiped out on some remote islands.

The Fijian Government confirmed the death toll, saying it feared the number would rise further as relief teams reach isolated communities.

“Forty-two Fijians now confirmed dead – disaster officials continue to deploy team to help those affected across Fiji,” government spokesman Dan Gavidi tweeted.

The acting head of the Red Cross’s Pacific office Ahmad Sami said more fatalities were coming to light as government and aid agencies sent back information from remote communities.

“The numbers will continue to change as we have better access to information and establish communications,” he said.

Koro Island, which lies in the Koro Sea between Fiji’s two largest islands, was one of the worst-hit by Cyclone Winston on the weekend.

Aid is slowly arriving on the island but resident Serepe Pela, who lives in Nasau village, said more assistance was desperately needed.

“They need their houses to be constructed. At present all houses were ruined by Cyclone Winston,” he said.

“And foods, currently the food security level at Nasau is 5 per cent to 10 per cent.

“Maybe by next week there will be no more food.”

Other residents on Koro Island told local media how several people were killed by huge waves whipped up by the cyclone.

The scale of the devastation is becoming clearer as authorities make contact with smaller islands impacted by the category five storm.

Australia sending relief to hard-hit areas

Australia has sent more aid to the Pacific country with Australian Defence Force helicopters expected to start flying to hard-hit areas from Thursday.

The Royal Australian Navy’s biggest ship will be deployed to Fiji, along with another aircraft to help with relief efforts after the cyclone.

Defence Minister Marise Payne said HMAS Canberra was anticipated to arrive on March 1 but it was difficult to estimate the exact date.

“It is worthy to note that there is a cyclone of varying degrees between us and Fiji still so that is a detailed process,” Minister Payne said.

Assistance has also reached Fiji from the Darwin-based National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC).

The centre’s executive director, Dr Len Notaras, said the Royal Darwin Hospital had established itself as a major centre for treatment in the region.

“It is no coincidence that we have got people up in Suva as we speak responding to the cyclone as part of the NCCTRC based here in Darwin,” Dr Notaras said.

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama announced victims would have access to low-interest loans to rebuild their homes.

“Our relief effort is in full swing,” he said in a national address.

“We are spreading out all over the country, identifying areas of need and doing everything in our power to provide our people with relief supplies and assistance as fast as we can.”

Many Fijians say help has been too slow but Mr Bainimarama said authorities were working as hard as possible.

“Whoever you are in Fiji, wherever you are in Fiji, we are doing our best to reach you,” he said.

“We realise the desperate position you are in, we realise how traumatic this is for you and your families and we ask for your patience and we ask for your understanding.

“We will not rest until we have reached you and have given you the helping hand you so badly need and deserve.”

It was also announced the country’s largest superannuation fund would provide grants worth several thousand dollars to affected members.

– ABC/Weatherzone


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