The devastation in Fiji following Cyclone Yasa was compared with a war zone as reconnaissance flights showed entire villages wiped out and authorities put the cost at hundreds of millions of dollars.
A state of natural disaster has been declared for 30 days as emergency services scrambled to provide food and clothing to the worst affected areas.
The superstorm slammed into Fiji’s second largest island Vanua Levu late on Thursday, leaving a trail of destruction.
Of the 24,000 people who evacuated from their homes at the height of the storm, 16,113 are still unable to return.
A New Zealand Air Force reconnaissance flight flew over the area on Saturday to assess the scale of the damage, with reports of houses, crops and entire livelihoods wiped out.
The storm also damaged schools and caused widespread flooding and landslides.
Extensive damage in Vanua Levu
More than 93,000 people were affected and the number of casualties may rise when communications are restored to hard-hit areas, the National Disaster Management Office said in a statement.
Communications with the eastern Lau islands group were cut during the storm and the extent of damage there remains unknown.
National Disaster Management Office director Vasiti Soki said that while it would take days to assess the full scale of the damage, “we are likely looking at hundreds of millions of dollars”.
She said the immediate focus was on restoring critical infrastructure, re-establishing communication with severely affected areas and maintaining public safety.
Authorities in Fiji said that at least two people, including a three-month old baby, have died in the aftermath of Cyclone Yasa pic.twitter.com/Pq8I9ObXcx
— Reuters (@Reuters) December 18, 2020
The death of a 45-year-old man and a three-month-old baby were confirmed after the storm swept through on Friday and Soko said two more bodies had since been found.
“There were villages that were totally wiped out by the storm surge and the only clothes [the villagers have] are those on their backs,” Fiji Red Cross operations manager Maciu Nokelvu told AFP news agency.
“We are providing temporary shelters with the provision of tarpaulins and shelter toolkits, and dry clothes.
“The most devastated area is in the second largest island Vanua Levu. However, we haven’t received any information from the Lau group of islands on the eastern side.”
In Bua, which is part of Vanua Levu island, an image published on the FBC News website showed at least two buildings in a secondary school flattened.
In Nasarawaqa, also in Vanua Levu, the cyclone also damage a mosque, where about 50 people had sought shelter.
Yasa weakened after leaving Fiji and initially headed towards Tonga.
It has since veered south, away from the islands, although a heavy rain warning and flash flood advisory remain in force for parts of Tonga.