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Saturday 27 February 2016 | Published in Regional


SUVA – The damage bill from Cyclone Winston in Fiji has already reached $650 million, the government says, with thousands of people still living in evacuation centres.

Fiji’s Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum said the impact on the local economy was expected to rise as further damage estimates flowed in.

“It is of course very difficult at this stage to give an exact figure in terms of damages – but if you take into account the number of homes all over Fiji that have been damaged or completely demolished,” he said.

“If you look at the impact on agriculture in terms of crops that are in the ground that have been damaged, or under the ground, the ability to plant, the ability of people to earn an income you can easily say it’s Fiji one billion so far.”

The total number of evacuees has been updated to more than 59,000, disaster management officials said.

While essential services were back on in many places, the government said it may take up to six weeks to restore electricity in some regions.

The death toll from the category five cyclone which struck Fiji over the weekend remains at 42 with two people missing.

Further assistance was heading to Fiji, with the Australian Navy’s HMAS Canberra departing Brisbane bound for the cyclone-ravaged country, expected to arrive next Tuesday.

Commanding officer Chris Smith said the ship was carrying the equivalent of a small regional hospital.

“We’ve embarked some medical personnel, we have a handful of people onboard ourselves, doctors, nurses,” he said.

“In the actual ship itself we have two surgeries, radiography capability there, a pharmacy, all the basic things you’d expect in a normal hospital.”

Captain Smith said the ship also had seven containers of supplies.

“We’ll have enough supplies to feed about 1000 people for about 42 days,” he said.

Churches groups were also among those helping deliver relief.

“There is a dire need for clothing, we know that the only clothes that they have is what they are wearing at the moment, there’s a need for cooking utensils, pots and pans and the basic necessities,” reverend James Bhagwan from Fiji’s Methodist Church said.

Government spokesperson Ewan Perrin said at this stage, there was enough aid in the evacuation centres to go around.

“We’ve got sufficient essential resources – food, water, medical resources at the moment. We have been very fortunate, the international community has provided a lot of aid and assistance, a lot of materials for us as well.

Perrin said 100 of the 850 evacuation centres were schools.

He said the government was working to relocate those being housed in schools to churches and community halls, so children could return to school within the next two weeks.

He said the government had still not been able to reach some areas of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu because of landslides, flooding and roads blocked off with trees.

That included some villages south of Rakiraki.

But he said it had been in communication with all outer islands, including Vanuabalavu, which suffered wide-scale destruction, and aid had reached, or was on its way, to all areas.

“There’s only a few areas now that are inaccessible, but all of the outer islands I think now we have had visual surveys over all of them, and we have been deploying either food drops or having various ships out to some of those islands now,” he said. - ABC/RNZI