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Fiji cyclone damage 'overwhelming'
Foreign aid begins to arrive in Fiji as authorities begin to assess damage.
Last Modified: 17 Mar 2010 05:29 GMT
More than 17,000 people have been forced to take refuge in government shelters

The prime minister of Fiji has said a powerful tropical storm that hit the South Pacific island nation has inflicted "overwhelming" damage.

Frank Bainimarama was speaking as the storm, labelled Tomas, battered the country's northern islands for a third day, forcing more than 17,000 people to take refuge in government shelters.

The government has declared a state of emergency, and international relief supplies began arriving on Wednesday.

Meteorologists have designated Tomas a category four storm - the second strongest on a five point scale, with winds averaging up to 175kph.

Unicef, the United Nations children's agency, has said it believes that about 150,000 Fijians may have been directly affected by the storm.

Only one person is so far confirmed to have died, although Pajiliai Dobui, the director of the National Disaster Management Office told reporters that there were unconfirmed reports of a "few" deaths.

Speaking to Al Jazeera he said that officials were preparing to travel to the worst-hit areas to see what kind of assistance and recovery efforts are needed.

"It's important to survey the areas to assess what needs to be done."

On Tuesday, a state of emergency was declared in Fiji's northern and eastern areas, where homes, crops and infrastructure have been destroyed.

International aid

A New Zealand Air Force C130 Hercules aircraft arrived in the country on Wednesday morning with relief supplies with another Hercules from Australia expected to arrive later in the day.

The Fijian prime minister labelled the cyclone damage as "overwhelming"

Fijian naval vessels are also due to leave for the disaster areas in the eastern Lau and Lomaiviti island groups to assess damage and deliver relief supplies.

Australia and New Zealand have pledged a total of $1.6m as initial contributions to the aid effort.

Stephen Smith, the Australian foreign minister said the two countries would coordinate their response.

"Australia will consider further assistance for reconstruction once damage has been more fully assessed," he told reporters.

Fijian officials said there was a need for tents and emergency shelters, water containers and purification tablets and emergency morgues.

Since the cyclone hit there have been reports of extensive damage from Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island, as well as several of the country's eastern outlying islands.

Telecommunications and electricity remained out in many parts of Vanua Levu, and water and sewerage services were also affected.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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