Officials in Fiji are desperately trying to implement relief efforts after Cyclone Winston ravaged the country a day ago. Several people have been killed, and aid agencies say a health disaster could be imminent.
Power outages and flooding hampered relief efforts in Fiji, a day after Tropical Cyclone Winston hit the archipelago with a speed of 325 kilometers per hour (200 mph). The strong winds and rains destroyed power lines across the country, which has a population of about 900,000 people.
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama declared a 30-day emergency and said at least five people had been killed in the storm. A nationwide curfew was extended until Monday morning. "When we are able, we will provide timelines for the return of water and power," he said on Sunday.
Residents in the capital, Suva, were fortunate that the storm headed away from the city at the last minute, but hospitals were reported to have been damaged, the UN aid agency OCHA reported. Ahmad Sami, of the Red Cross' Pacific Office, said priorities included an restoring power and repairing damaged homes, as well as maintaining the drinking water supply in 750 evacuation centers.
Some villages reported large-scale destruction, and officials were still assessing the full scale of the disaster, the United Nations Development Program's Jone Tuipelehaki wrote on Twitter
"The images that we're starting to see roll in are terrifying," Alice Clements, a UNICEF official based in Suva, told reporters.
Potential health disaster
Aid agencies warned of a potential health disaster caused mainly by the lack of electricity. Health workers said people living in tin sheds in low-lying areas were particularly vulnerable.
"We need electricity to ensure pumps are working and for sterilization," Raijeli Nicole, of Oxfam, told the Reuters news agency by telephone. She also said relief planes were being sent to assess the situation in remote areas.
New Zealand and Australia are sending a P-3 Orion aircraft to help with reconnaissance. Around 1,200 Australians are registered as being in Fiji, according to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Flights from Australia to the popular destination would resume on Monday, Virgin Australia said.
The cyclone had moved out to sea by Sunday, but heavy winds, accompanied by rains and swells could still be expected, Fiji's meteorological department said.
mg/tj (AFP, Reuters)