Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Cyclone Winston: Dead toll passes 40 as thousands abandon homes

Relief has poured into cyclone-ravaged Fiji where 42 people are now confirmed dead and thousands have been forced to abandon their homes.

The Government in Suva has declared a state of emergency for 30 days in the wake of the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston.

In addition to the 42 confirmed as having lost their lives, a 10-month-old baby and three other people are listed as missing.

It is estimated more than 8000 people are now residing in more than 50 evacuation centres.

Today, the Herald visited Lovo Sangham School north of Nadi. In one classroom, four families were living together.

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A Boeing 757 flew from Ohakea air force base today carrying 35 Army personnel including plumbers, electricians and field engineers as well as Fire Service engineers.

They will work alongside Fijian soldiers clearing debris and repairing buildings.A C-130 Hercules flew from Auckland with more than 16,000kg of aid including shelters, tarpaulins, tools and generators.

HMNZS Wellington will leave from Auckland tomorrow afternoon and HMNZS Canterbury will leave on Sunday with aid supplies for Fiji.

New Zealand has already contributed $2 million in aid to Fiji since the cyclone struck on the weekend, and a P-3 Orion has been carrying out reconnaissance flights.

World Vision has opened an appeal for Kiwis to donate to relief efforts in Fiji, and to help the charity respond to future emergencies.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has also announced a mayoral fund to provide relief for those affected by the cyclone.

He said the appeal would run alongside local Pacific communities and aid agencies to best help people in Fiji and Tonga.

Meanwhile, Vodafone New Zealand is deploying a team of specially trained personnel with communication equipment to establish an "Instant Network" and assist with recovery.

An Instant Network, made up of suitcases and a mobile generator, supports a local communications network via satellite.

"Our first priority is to establish a communication link between Fiji's islands to help officials and relief co-ordinators assess and report on the damage," Vodafone Instant Network team leader Lise Mackie said.

"This will also support a communication link back to family throughout the Pacific, in New Zealand and Australia, which will hopefully alleviate anxiety for many who still don't know whether their family members are safe."

A Vodafone team will also work with Vodafone Fiji on longer-term infrastructure needs. Organisations from Fiji and the greater Pacific area are also providing relief.

The Asian Development Bank has provided $2 million in emergency assistance for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction needs.The NGO Coalition on Human Rights in Fiji is working with communities to ensure the needs of everyone, including women, children, disabled people, homosexual and transgender persons and other marginalised groups, are being met as best as possible.

How to donate

• Red Cross: redcross.org.nz
• Tear Fund: tearfund.org.nz
• World Vision: worldvision.org.nz
• Unicef: unicef.org.nz
• Oxfam: oxfam.org.nz
• Habitat for Humanity: www.habitat.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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