The official death toll rose to 29 early on Tuesday as information began filtering back from hard-hit remote areas that bore the brunt of the category-5 cyclone on Saturday – a storm believed to be the most powerful ever to hit Fiji.
Fiji government spokesman Ewan Perrin said the new toll comes after eight bodies were found on the island of Koro, which took a direct hit from the cyclone as it passed over the western side of the 300-island group.
“It has pretty much (been) flattened,” he told Radio New Zealand on Tuesday.
“There are very few buildings left.”
Another four people are believed to be missing at sea, although fatalities have not been confirmed.
Aid groups and government authorities are now racing to deal with a critical need for clean water, health supplies and emergency accommodation after power lines, roads, jetties and homes were destroyed and damaged across huge areas of Fiji’s main islands of Vanua Levu and Viti Levu.
A 30-day state of emergency has been declared in Fiji and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has ordered emergency management officials to respond to the crisis as quickly as possible.
“There are Fijians out there who are without water, without a roof over their heads, without food and without essential services,” Bainimarama said.
Aid agencies fear there could be widespread outbreaks of disease among the estimated 8000 people sheltering in evacuation centres due to water contamination.
“It really is a race against time to get immediate relief to those who have lost everything and ensure families can stay safe and healthy,” CARE Australia spokeswoman Sarah Boxall said.
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