Thirty-six people have been confirmed and some are still missing as Fiji continues to count the costs in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston, which ravaged the island nation at the weekend. And more than 13,350 people were reported sheltering in evacuation centres in the Western Division on Wednesday as this edition of the Indian Weekender was finalised for publishing.
At least 12 were confirmed dead in the western region including 7 in Rakiraki alone. Reports say more than 90 per cent of homes in Rakiraki were flattened by the strong winds, leaving close to 7000 people from the district in evacuation centres.
The death toll from the monster cyclone is expected to rise further as reports start coming in from around the country and Government officials make their way out for assessment and to provide relief assistance. Three people have been reported dead in the Northern Division so far. Commissioner Northern Jovesa Vocea confirmed the deaths.
Vocea said two deaths were reported from Qamea in Taveuni while one was from Cogea in Bua. He urged people in the North to remain safe as a low pressure sits outside the division. TC Winston, the most powerful storm to hit Fiji, struck on Saturday and Sunday, February 20-21, causing widespread damage to infrastructure and homes.
Winds and gusts of up to 340km/hr flattened hundreds of homes in Rakiraki, Ba, Lautoka, and also Taveuni and Savusavu. Outer islands were also severely affected. Commissioner Western Manasa Tagicakibau said the number of people sheltering in the evacuation centres was overwhelming.
In Nadi there are 1237, Lautoka 2446, Ba 1324, Tavua 1082, Nadarivatu 53, Rakiraki 6873 and Nadroga/Navosa have 341 people sheltering in the evacuation centres.
The Fijian government has declared a national disaster, and mobilised its disaster management systems. Help has begun pouring in from Australia and New Zealand with the latter sending out assistance by air and also pledging an initial $2 million in aid for rebuild and emergency rations.
Fijian communities living in New Zealand have also begun several fundraising and supplies drive to help those affected by the cyclone.
Meanwhile, the European Union has deployed an emergency assessment expert to Fiji to help assess the damage caused TC Winston and to advise it on the need for humanitarian assistance.
EU Ambassador to Fiji and the Pacific, Andrew Jacobs said the expert from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department arrived in the country earlier this week and will begin work immediately.
‘‘The European Union is closely monitoring the situation in Fiji,” he said.
“An expert from our Emergency Response Co-ordination Centre in Bangkok has landed in Fiji to take part in an assessment of impact of the humanitarian impact of Tropical Cyclone Winston and to recommend how best the EU should support relief and recovery in the wake of the cyclone.”
The Fijian economy is also expected to take a major hit with widespread damage to sugar cane crops. Initial damage assessments carried out earlier this week showed the sugar industry had suffered $83 million in losses from TC Winston.
Commissioner Western Manasa Tagicakibau said the assessment was conducted quickly because of scheduled meetings Government will have with Chinese government officials. Tagicakibau said food rations would be pushed out to sugar cane farmers with urgency.