CYCLONE Winston, one of the worst tropical storms on record in the Southern Hemisphere, has devastated parts of Fiji. At least 42 have been confirmed dead, and there are fears that the number could rise as rescue teams discover more devastated communities.
The cyclone struck last weekend, bringing high winds, torrential rain, and 12-metre-high waves, which flattened many buildings. Emergency rescue teams have still to reach many of the communities on outlying small islands to assess the damage.
Aerial footage of outlying islands — taken by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and posted on the Fiji government’s website — shows whole villages flattened and flooded, after winds of up to 200 mph tore through the Polynesian archipelago of 300 islands.
New Zealand has sent specialist teams to help, and overseas aid is beginning to reach the region. Nearly 14,000 people remain in evacuation centres, said David Hesaie, World Vision’s representative in the capital, Suva.
“Yesterday, I heard of a mother of nine children who left her ten-year-old daughter and toddler at an evacuation centre while she went home to get supplies. She did not make it back to the evacuation centre, and her nine children are now without a mother,” he said.
The Fijian government has declared a 30-day state of natural disaster, and launched an appeal for public donations to assist victims of the cyclone.
There are fears that the Zika and dengue viruses could take hold in the country. Both are spread by mosquitoes, which will breed in the stagnant water left by the storm.
“The threat of dengue and Zika in the coming days in Fiji is real,” the senior health-programme manager at Plan International Australia, Chris Hagarty, said. “The period immediately following a disaster of this scale can be a particularly dangerous one.”