SUVA • Humanitarian aid has begun flowing into Fiji as the death toll from Tropical Cyclone Winston rose to 29 and officials warned that the devastated Pacific nation's recovery could take months.
Winston, the most powerful storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere and one that Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama described as an "assault on Fiji", lashed the country at the weekend with wind gusts of up to 325kmh.
With the authorities still struggling to grasp the scale of the disaster on remote island communities, Australian and New Zealand jets yesterday arrived with food, water and medicine.
Australia has contributed A$5 million (S$5.1 million) and New Zealand NZ$2.2 million (S$2.1 million). India pledged US$1 million (S$1.4 million) and aid agencies such as the Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children are on the ground distributing supplies and providing expertise on issues such as sanitation.
Government spokesman Ewan Perrin said the news was grim from the few isolated villages that had managed to restore communications. More than 8,000 people are still in evacuation centres, and he said some villages had hardly any buildings left standing.
"In some places, people are going to be displaced for months because they've lost everything. 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 said.
The aerial photographs show entire villages flattened, with homes reduced to piles of kindling. On one battered island, a large steel-hulled ship sat high on a beach after being driven ashore by huge swells.
"The images... are truly heartbreaking," said United Nations Fiji coordinator Osnat Lubrani. "It is clear... that Fiji is facing a long road to recovery."