Fiji faces health crisis after cyclone

Fiji has begun a massive clean-up after a Category 5 super-storm tore through the Pacific island- nation last Saturday, killing at least 20 people.
Fiji has begun a massive clean-up after a Category 5 super-storm tore through the Pacific island- nation last Saturday, killing at least 20 people.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SYDNEY • Fiji has begun a massive clean-up after one of the most powerful storms recorded in the Southern Hemisphere tore through the Pacific island-nation, killing at least 20 people, flattening remote villages and cutting off communications.

Aid agencies are warning of a widespread health crisis, particularly in low-lying areas where thousands of Fiji's 900,000 people live in tin shacks, after crops were wiped out and fresh-water supplies blocked.

There were also fears for seven fishermen, believed to be missing at sea, after the storm struck last Saturday.

A 36-hour curfew was lifted early yesterday, allowing the Fijian military to ramp up efforts to reach the more remote parts of the archipelago of about 300 islands.

Fiji also reopened its main airport at Nadi after a two-day suspension and international tourists caught up in the disaster began to leave.

Airlines, including Air New Zealand, Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Fiji Airways, said they were resuming operations, with some planning additional flights today.

Aerial footage of outlying islands taken by the New Zealand Air Force, and posted on the Fiji government's official website, showed whole villages flattened and flooded.

"The Fijians are desperately trying to repair severed lines of communication, but they hold grave fears that the news waiting for them will be dire," said Mr Raijeli Nicole, Pacific regional director of aid group Oxfam.

"Given the intensity of the storm and the images we have seen so far, there are strong concerns that the death toll won't stop climbing today, and that hundreds of people will have seen their homes and livelihoods completely destroyed."

Aerial footage of outlying islands taken by the New Zealand Air Force, and posted on the Fiji government's official website, showed whole villages flattened and flooded.

Aid agencies were told at a meeting of Fiji's National Emergency Operations Centre yesterday of potential "catastrophic" damage to Koro Island, Fiji's seventh-largest island.

Food and water supplies are a growing concern, even for areas such as Suva that did not suffer as much damage as the more remote regions.

The island-nation has declared a month-long state of natural disaster and all schools, many of which are being used as evacuation centres, were ordered to be closed for one week. Military leave has been cancelled, so troops can help with the clean-up.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2016, with the headline 'Fiji faces health crisis after cyclone'. Print Edition | Subscribe