One of the southern hemisphere’s most powerful cyclones on record has left at least ten people dead in Fiji, according to the nation’s broadcaster.
Category-5 Cyclone Winston swept through the tiny island nation on Saturday night, flattening homes and downing trees.
Unrelenting rain and downed powerlines hampered relief efforts on Sunday as officials assess the damage and Australian aid agencies offer assistance.
Virgin Australia has announced it will resume flights in and out of Nadi on Monday, while Jetstar and Fiji Airways have cancelled their scheduled flights.
The relief efforts come after the cyclone tore through with winds gusting to 325km/h and waves up to 12m high, cutting communication across much of the country of almost 900,000.
Entire villages have reportedly been destroyed and one elderly man was killed on Koro Island, northeast of Suva, when a roof fell on him.
Grave fears remain for others in low-lying river areas and on outer islands.
Australian Red Cross worker Susan Slattery said persistent, heavy downpours were complicating early responses to the widespread damage.
‘A lot of the communities affected are in low-lying areas and on islands so continued rain will add to the flooding risk,’ she told AAP from Suva on Sunday.
‘It affects our access into those places that are the hardest hit, including smaller islands that are a long way away.’
Mobile phone signals and landline services had also been hit, making it difficult for communication and co-ordination among agencies.
UNICEF Pacific aid worker Alice Clements said Suva was spared the full force of the cyclone’s wind blasts, with the storm changing direction at the last minute when it made landfall late on Saturday.
The howling winds and driving rains that lashed the Fijian capital paled in comparison to what those in the eye of the storm experienced, she told AAP on Sunday.
‘We’ve seen photos of houses that have been completely flattened – there is literally nothing standing,’ she said.
‘These are people who were incredibly vulnerable to start with and now they’ve had potentially everything taken away from them.’
Schools will be closed for at least a week amid concerns of flash flooding and mudslides.
Australia and New Zealand offered military aircraft to assist with aerial damage surveillance of the outer islands in the first wave of aid.
About 1,300 Australians were registered with DFAT as being in Fiji but that figure was likely to be far higher, given up to 350,000 visit Fiji every year, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Sunday.