25 Feb 2016

Fiji Govt: scale of damage immense, more help needed

5:44 pm on 25 February 2016

Fiji is likely to need more international assistance as it rebuilds after Cyclone Winston, says a government spokesperson.

In Rakiraki the cyclone flipped a van and slammed it into the ground

In Rakiraki the cyclone flipped a van and slammed it into the ground Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Forty-two people were killed in the category five cyclone and close to 20,000 people are in evacuation centres, and it is feared that number might rise as contact is made with the outer islands.

New Zealand, Australia and France have responded with a number of relief flights, and New Zealand has deployed two Navy ships to Fiji to assist.

The United States, China, India and the European Union have also offered financial assistance.

Ewan Perrin, the permanent secretary of the Department of Communications, said the scale of damage was immense, and more will be needed.

"I think we will definitely need more international assistance. For the initial piece of activity, we're getting everything that we need at this stage.

"As we do those more detailed assessments, and as we look into the medium to longer term, we'll be looking towards our friends in the international community for some more support as well," he said.

Mr Perrin said the government was trying to work out accommodation options for close to 20,000 people who were living in the evacuation centres.

Getting shelter for the homeless was a top priority and temporary accommodation would be available for as long as it was needed.

He said the process of rebuilding had begun, but the government was trying to work out medium-term options.

"A lot of those evacuation centres are actually schools at the moment. What we're looking at doing now that the cyclone and storm has passed, we can actually re-house these people in other centres like churches and community halls and so on, and that frees the schools up.

"But in some cases it's going to be quite a while before we can re-house these people properly."

The government hopes to establish communication with parts of the country left isolated by Winston within the next couple of days.

"It's a work in progress, but we have re-established communications with some of the key areas, particularly the island of Koro, which was very heavily hit," said Mr Perrin.

"We're establishing communications on the island of Taveuni, which was also one of the more severely damaged areas as well, but we probably won't have good communications there probably until some time early tomorrow."

Damaged buildings in Rakiraki after Cyclone Winston hit Fiji.

Damaged buildings in Rakiraki after Cyclone Winston hit Fiji. Photo: Fiji Government

Financial assistance

The Asian Development Bank said Fiji's economy could face losses of tens of millions of dollars following the cyclone.

It would take some time to determine the full economic impact but the cyclone would set Fiji back significantly, according to ADB South Pacific regional eirector Rob Jauncey.

But he added there was likely to be significant damage to the tourism, sugar, agriculture sectors, the backbone of the Fiji's economy.

"I expect on the agriculture and sugar industries in general, we are going to see very extensive damage that is going to affect Fiji's overall economy, but there are many, many households across Fiji who make their livelihood from small scale agriculture - in some ways it is the safety net of the economy," he said.

The Asian Development Bank will provide $US2 million in emergency assistance to help Fiji recover from the damage caused by Cyclone Winston.

Mr Jauncey said the bank was committed to also providing any additional longer term reconstruction assistance that the government and the country may require, "which I expect will be extensive".

The assistance will be mobilised from the ADB Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund.

The ABD will work with the Fiji Government to identify priority relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction needs.

Samoa's PM offers condolences

Samoa's prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has written to his Fijian counterpart to offer condolences and extend support in the aftermath of Winston.

Tuilaepa, who has often been at loggerheads with Frank Bainimarama, wrote: "As you begin the arduous journey towards rebuilding and the challenges involved in regaining some normalcy, please know we have you all in our thoughts and prayers."

He has pledged assistance of US$47,000 towards the relief and recovery efforts.

The prime minister also highlighted the small island vulnerabilities of Pacific nations.

He said Fiji and Samoa shared inherent vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change and linked natural disasters.

But he said despite the setbacks and tragedy, the impact of these experiences also show the incomparable strength, faith and resilience of the people of their countries.

Fiji Airways gives aid

Fiji Airways has given US$ 470,000 to the prime minister's relief fund, set up in the wake of the cyclone disaster.

The national airline, which is government-owned, handed a check over today to Frank Bainimarama.

The airline also said it would fly relief supplies free domestically and inbound from other countries.

Meanwhile the civil aviation minister, Aiyaz sayed Khaiyum, said the government, through Tourism Fiji, was working with Fiji Airways and industry stakeholders on a comprehensive plan to maintain the health of the sector.

He said Fiji must get the message out that most resorts were open and functioning.

The minister said the best way for Australians and New Zealanders, in particular, to give support through the crisis was to keep visiting Fiji