Death Toll In Fiji From Cyclone Winston Rises To 29

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Koro island, home to 2000 families, ‘pretty much flattened’

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, Feb. 23, 2016) – The death toll in Fiji from Cyclone Winston has risen to 29, and one island has been nearly flattened, the Fijian government says.

The most powerful storm in the country's recorded history barrelled into Fiji's main island of Viti Levu and neighbouring smaller islands late on Saturday, destroying entire villages, flooding low-lying areas, and wiping out crops.

Government spokesman Ewan Perrin told Morning Report the island of Koro appeared to have taken a direct hit, with eight bodies found there yesterday.

Mr Perrin said 2000 families lived on the island "and it has been pretty much flattened. There are very few buildings left".

Two vessels carrying medical aid, food and water were expected to arrive at Koro this morning, he said.

More than 8000 people remain in hundreds of evacuation centres throughout the Fijian islands, and thousands throughout the 300 islands of the archipelago would be displaced for months, he said.

[PIR editor’s note: On Feb. 23, 2106 Fiji Times reported that ‘MORE than 13,350 people are sheltering in evacuation centres in the Western Division. ... Commissioner Western Manasa Tagicakibau said the number of people was overwhelming. ... In Nadi there are 1237, Lautoka 2446, Ba 1324, Tavua 1082, Nadarivatu 53, Rakiraki 6873 and Nadroga/Navosa have 341.’]

As well, the death toll was expected to continue rising.

Radio New Zealand International reporter Alex Perrottet, who is in Nadi, said a water shortage and shelter were the most pressing concerns as Fijians started to rebuild their homes.

Water tankers were deployed during the recent droughts and people were again having to collect rain water in buckets.

"We were told that those tanks would be used and reused for emergency situations. We haven't seen or heard any word about whether they've been deployed yet," he said.

"People would be seriously after those things but they're also calling just for tarpaulins, just to be able to build some temporary shelters."

Perrottet said the effects of the cyclone further north and west in Fiji was likely to be more serious.

However, the cyclone had not dented the big-heartedness of Fijians, who were still offering hospitality to strangers.

Aid worker Alice Clements said the Fijian government was well prepared for Cyclone Winston but the scale of the destruction was breathtaking.

Many families had lost everything in the cyclone, including their source of food, and schools and health centres had also been damaged.

[PIR editor’s note: On Feb. 23, 2016 Fiji Times reported that ‘Initial damage assessments carried out yesterday revealed that the sugar industry has suffered $83million (US$39 million) in losses from Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston. ... Commissioner Western Manasa Tagicakibau said the assessment was conducted quickly because of meetings Government will have today with Chinese Government officials. ... Mr Tagicakibau said food rations will be pushed out to sugarcane farmers with urgency.’]

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