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Devastation seen on Fiji's cyclone-hit islands

SUVA, March 18 (AFP) - The full extent of devastation on Fiji's cyclone-devastated islands became clearer Thursday as aerial surveys revealed destroyed houses and crops and dying vegetation, officials said.

Australian and New Zealand air force aircraft ferried relief supplies to the north of the country and carried out aerial surveys of some of the areas devastated by the category four cyclone on Monday and Tuesday.

A New Zealand Air Force transport plane flew over the northern island of Taveuni, discovering widespread destruction in some villages.

"In pockets there were some villages that don't look affected but there are others that look like they were hit pretty bad," Squadron Leader Kavae Tamariki told Radio New Zealand.

"There were houses down, there was a lot more vegetation that was killed during the cyclone just because of all the salt in the air," he said.

The scale of damage was worse than that seen on Wednesday on Cikobia, another northern island, Tamariki said.

As well as destructive winds averaging 175 kilometres (110 miles) an hour on Monday and Tuesday, many coastal areas were wrecked by waves from a storm surge generated by Cyclone Tomas.

"The flights have been clearly indicating many areas have received a severe battering from high seas," National Disaster Management Office operations officer Anthony Blake told AFP.

An inspection flight Thursday afternoon by an Australian Air Force plane revealed severe damage to houses and vegetation in the northern Lau group.

"The damage in the south of the Lau group was lesser and in the Lomaiviti group was also not as extensive," Blake said.

Only one death has so far been confirmed but there have been unconfirmed reports of "a few" deaths.

"We still don't know the scale of this in terms of the number of people impacted severely," said UNICEF Pacific deputy representative Tim Sutton.

His organisation was able to send enough basic medical supplies for about 50,000 people to the country's north Thursday on the Australian and New Zealand air force flights.

He estimated about 150,000 people had potentially been affected by the cyclone.

Health facilities through the affected islands have been swamped by people needing treatment, shelter and drinking water, he told AFP.

Cikobia island was one of the first to feel the full force of Cyclone Tomas on Monday and there were fears for the safety of villagers there after communications were cut.

But inspections on Wednesday and Thursday showed most houses were not badly damaged there, because they were rebuilt to withstand cyclones after storms in 2003 and 2007, National Disaster Management Office director Pajiliai Dobui told commercial radio.

Three Fijian naval vessels left the capital Suva Wednesday night for the cyclone hit regions in the north and east to assess damage and deliver relief supplies, including food, water containers, tents and tarpaulins.

The Australian High Commission in Suva said nine Australians were yet to be accounted for in the cyclone-hit areas.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said there had been no reports of casualties among the 480 New Zealanders registered in the country.

Most tourist resorts are in the west of the country, which was not badly affected by the cyclone.

MySinchew 2010.03.18



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