[The Guardian] Cyclone Winston: tens of thousands homeless in Fiji a week after storm
Unicef says 51,000 people still in shelters with many others staying with relatives after cyclone tore across South Pacific
The total number of people forced from their homes in the archipelago nation of more than 300 islands is expected to be much higher as many fled to relatives and are not included in the data.
Cyclone Winston, the worst storm recorded in the southern hemisphere, left 42 people dead, according Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office. The category-five storm also left many without water and it could be weeks before electricity is restored in some areas.
Australia has sent a military vessel, HMAS Canberra, which is expected to arrive in Fijian waters early this week. It is carrying three helicopters and 60 tonnes of supplies, including water purification equipment and medicine.
There are fewer than a million people living in Fiji, spread out on islands thousands of square miles apart, making it difficult to asses the full damage of the cyclone. The severe tropical cyclone hit Fiji this month with winds gusts up to 325km/h and waves up to 12 metres high.
“There are still some pieces of the picture missing but we do know that approximately 7.2% (62,400) of Fiji’s population are in 875 evacuation centres, with many staying with relatives or in other places away from home,” Unicef New Zealand’s executive director, Vivien Maidaborn, said in a statement.
“One hundred and 34 schools have been destroyed, severely damaged or are being used as evacuation centres.”
Unicef spokeswoman Alice Clements said the official number of people sleeping in repurposed community halls, schools and churches had fallen on Monday to 51,000 as many people were staying with friends or relatives.
“It is incredibly hard to estimate how many people in total were forced from their houses,” Clements said, adding that only people registered at evacuation centres had been counted.
Unicef said there were shortages in emergency supplies and further funding was needed to sustain and scale up the response.
Adi, 13, from Yaqeta village in the outer Yasawa Islands, said she saw her house collapse. “I grabbed my brother and we ran. I was so scared. We ran from house to house three times. Now I am heartbroken to see the house where I was born and raised in, in pieces,” she told Unicef.
Aid workers have warned that potential outbreaks of viruses carried by mosquitos could further devastate the nation, with dirty stagnant water remaining in many areas.