Cyclone death toll hits 29 as Fiji eyes long clean-up

SUVA: Humanitarian aid began pouring into Fiji Tuesday, as the death toll from super-cyclone Winston rose to 29 and officials warned the devastated Pacific nation’s recovery could take months.

With authorities still struggling to grasp the scale of the disaster on remote island communities, Australian and New Zealand planes arrived with desperately needed supplies of food, water and medicine.

Government spokesman Ewan Perrin said the news was grim from the few isolated villages which had managed to restore communications after the storm hit last weekend.

“The official death toll now is 29, another eight bodies were found on the island of Koro since yesterday,” Perrin told Radio New Zealand in a phone interview.

“We are expecting it to rise but we’re hoping it’s going to rise by a very small number.”

Severe tropical cyclone Winston, the most powerful storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, lashed Fiji with wind gusts of 325 kilometres (202 miles) per hour, leaving a trail of destruction.

More than 8,000 people are still sheltering in evacuation centres and Perrin said some villages had hardly any buildings left standing.

“We’re still trying to get people on the ground in these areas to do a detailed assessment of the damage. We’re just taking it day-by day,” he said.

“In some places people are going to be displaced for months because they’ve lost everything.”

Perrin said 2,000 families were homeless on Koro alone and two ships were steaming to the island with relief supplies.

“We haven’t been able to make contact with all parts of Fiji, although with the assistance of the New Zealand Air Force we’ve managed to do aerial inspections across almost all of the islands,” he added.

The aerial photographs show entire villages flattened, with homes reduced to piles of kindling and roofing strewn about.

On one battered island, a large steel-hulled ship sits high on a beach after being driven ashore in huge swells.

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