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Unprecedented cyclone devastates Fiji - record-setting winds topped 200 mph

Aid and recovery efforts are underway across the Fijian archipelago after Cyclone Winston lashed the South Pacific. The death toll is at 20, but is almost certain to rise as entire villages were reduced to matchsticks.

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Huge cyclone leaves trail of destruction in Fiji

Fiji began a massive cleanup effort after a record-setting cyclone ripped through the Pacific archipelago over the weekend.

At least 20 people were killed, and the death toll appears likely to rise as whole villages have been obliterated by roaring winds that topped 200 miles per hour (330 kph).

Cyclone Winston, the strongest ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, devastated the Fijian archipelago.

At Monday's meeting of the National Disaster Management agency, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama ordered government ministries, the military, the police and other agencies to devote all available personnel and resources to the recovery efforts.

"There are Fijians out there who are without water, without a roof over their heads, without food and without essential services," he said. "It is our duty to determine their needs and provide them with the support they need as soon as possible."

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said details of the storm's destructive force were still emerging, but painted a grim picture.

"It is clear that Fiji faces a major cleanup and recovery operation," he said.

Oxfam's Pacific regional director Raijeli Nicole said Fijians were girded for more bad news.

"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," Nicole said, "and that hundreds of people will have seen their homes and livelihoods completely destroyed."

'Catastrophic'

Aid agencies have been alerted to potentially "catastrophic" damage to Koro Island, the archipelago's seventh largest.

"The aerial survey suggested the runway looks OK, so they are going to land on this later this afternoon with emergency personal and some supplies," said Anna Cowley, of CARE Australia.

Fiji's population of 860,000 is spread across 110 of the archipelago's 332 islands.

As many as 8,000 local residents remained in emergency shelters, as tourists - primarily from Australia and New Zealand - began exiting the devastated island chain once the main airport at Nadi had reopened.

Jeremy Bree, a tourist from Melbourne, described the sound of trees being ripped from the ground as he sheltered in a hotel on the main island of Viti Levu.

"It was pretty amazing," he said. "The noise around was something I've never heard before. It was a real harrowing whine that came through."

Another Australian survivor, Sarah Bingham, recalled the terrifying experience, which she and a companion endured on Tokoriki Island.

"The noise was deafening," she said. "At one point, I turned to my partner and questioned whether we would actually survive."

bik/jil (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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