Relief workers fear news of widespread devastation once connections with outlying villages are restored

The death toll from Cyclone Winston continues to rise as Fiji battles to recover from the effects of the devastating storm.

Twenty people were reported dead after the tropical cyclone ripped through the country on Saturday, with gusts of up to 325km/h and average winds of 230km/h.


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Fears mounted that the death toll in Fiji would rise dramatically when communications with remote villages that bore the brunt of the weekend's cyclone were restored.

Aid agencies and Unicef were becoming increasingly concerned for those living in parts of the island nation that were directly under the eye of the storm.

"The Fijians are desperately trying to repair severed lines of communication, but they hold grave fears that the news waiting for them will be dire," said Oxfam's Pacific regional director Raijeli Nicole.

"Given the intensity of the storm and the images we have seen so far, there are strong concerns that the death toll won't stop climbing today and that hundreds of people will have seen their homes and livelihoods completely destroyed." She said communication blackspots were making it hard to assess damage and determine the scale of the response required.

The country will remain in a state of emergency for the next month.

There are fears of a rise in diseases and other public health issues in the aftermath of the disaster.

22 Feb, 2016 8:17am
2 minutes to read

Unicef is reporting that supplies of drinking water have been cut off and when they are restored they may be contaminated.

Spokeswoman Alice Clements said some people don't have access to safe drinking water.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully announced yesterday an extra $1.8 million in funding for relief efforts, bringing the country's total contribution to more than $2 million.

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A Defence Force plane carrying relief supplies and reconnaissance personnel departed last night for Suva to assist the Fijian Government and help co-ordinate the aid effort.

Mr McCully said Fiji faces a major clean-up.

Fiji's Tourism Minister Faiyaz Siddiq Koya said all foreign visitors to Fiji are "safe and comfortable".

"We understand that friends and families are very concerned, however, we request everyone to remain calm.

"Cyclone Winston has caused extensive damage to the communications infrastructure, hence mobile and internet communications in some parts of Fiji may be affected.

"However, communication is active in Suva, Nadi, Denarau and along the Coral Coast."

The cyclone is forecast to head south towards New Zealand over the next few days, though with decreased intensity.

MetService meteorologist Georgina Griffiths said there is a risk the cyclone could affect central and northern parts of the country during the weekend.

"But with all tropical cyclones, there remains some uncertainty associated with the forecast track.

"It is too early to give an accurate forecast for which regions of New Zealand are likely to be impacted, but MetService meteorologists are monitoring this situation closely.

"What we can say is that it will not have the same impact and level of destruction as it did in Fiji."

If it does track near New Zealand it has the potential to cause increased sea swells, heavy rain, flooding and damaging winds.

Winston is currently a Category 4 cyclone, lying about 490km west of Nadi.

It is forecast to maintain Category 4 status through today and into tomorrow as it heads south.

ANZ Bank has announced it will provide an assistance package for customers in Fiji, waiving fees and suspending loan repayments in light of the disaster, as well as donating just over $100,000 to the Red Cross.