22 Feb 2016

Fiji's neighbours quick to offer help

9:18 pm on 22 February 2016

Fiji's regional partner countries say they'll be guided by Suva over how best they can provide help in the wake of Cyclone Winston.

The most powerful storm in the country's recorded history barrelled into Fiji's main island of Viti Levu and neighbouring smaller islands late on Saturday destroying entire villages, flooding low-lying areas, and wiping out crops.

The death toll from tropical cyclone Winston has risen to 10, with concerns that number could rise when communication is restored to outlying islands.

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama speaking to disciplined forces in January 2016

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama Photo: Supplied

The Fiji prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, says the country will be looking for a lot of help from donor countries and Fijian communities overseas following the devastation of Cyclone Winston.

He told Auckland based Radio Tarana the country has suffered total devastation of its infrastructure, homes and schools.

The prime minister says teams should go out shortly with emergency rations.

"The teams are ready to go out. Weather permitting they will leave on Tuesday. These are survey teams with emergency rations. All over Fiji with emergency rations, weather permitting of course."

Aerial views of the Maritime Islands reveal the devastation from Cyclone Winston.

Fiji is taking stock of the devastation caused by Cyclone Winston Photo: NZ Defence Force

First to help

Australia is providing an initial U$3.5 million package of assistance to Fiji in an immediate response to the devastation caused by Winston.

The Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said the package will support those in greatest need, facilitating the rapid release of pre-positioned stores and food items to assist people remaining in evacuation centres or displaced.

These stores would enable people to have access to safe drinking water and basic hygiene.

Australia has offered P3 Orion aircraft to Fiji to assist with aerial surveillance of affected areas - these are on standby in the region. Australia has additionally offered MRH-90 helicopters to assist Fiji to carry out assessments and provide relief to the outlying islands affected by the Cyclone.

Australian Civilian Corp specialists would also working alongside Fijian colleagues in the National Disaster Management Office.

World Humanitarian Summit Pacific Consultation. Hon. Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia

World Humanitarian Summit Pacific Consultation. Hon. Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Meanwhile, New Zealand's government said it was waiting for Fiji to say what additional help it will need in the wake of Cyclone Winston, after making some initial emergency funds available.

A Defence Force Orion was dispatched yesterday and has been helping with with aerial reconaissance.

Mark Ramsden, New Zealand's High Commissioner in Fiji, said an Air Force Hercules plane would arrive on Monday night carrying its first load of relief supplies.

He said initial surveillance suggested the Northern Lau Group, Lomaiviti, the northern coast of Viti Levu, and parts of the Yasawas were the worst affected.

Mr Ramsden said the Fiji government was prepared and swung into action very quickly, but some outer islands were inaccessible and without outside help.

A New Zealand Defence Force C-130 Hercules is on its to Fiji

A New Zealand Defence Force C-130 Hercules is on its to Fiji. Photo: DEFENCE

"The Fijian government is trying very hard to get boats there, there are also options for helicopters. New Zealand has a NZDF C-130 Hercules coming in this evening carrying relief supplies and a joint reconnaisance team and you know, subject to tasking by the Fiji government, that may well be directed to those hardest hit areas," he said.

New Zealand has given around US$1.3 million dollars in emergency funds so far.

The New Zealand foreign minister Murray McCully said that as well, the Hercules would transport a joint reconnaissance team to Suva.

The reconnaissance team will include soldiers, Fire Service personnel and staff from the Ministry of Health.

Mr McCully said New Zealand wanted to do what was most helpful and acceptable to the Fiji government.

"They are, as we are, are waiting for a read from that Orion flight later," said Mr McCully. "We have made the offer and I guess we will know they want us to contribute."

Co-ordination with other donor countries would play a part.

And of course we have got a conversation going on with the Australians, the French and others who have assets in the region to make sure that we are not doubling up. So that is the best that can be done while we wait for the assessments to come in, but clearly a really serious hit."

Fiji's government has confirmed that France had offered helicopters.

Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said a clearer picture of the situation in Fiji would emerge over the next few days.

A spokesperson for the UN agency in Suva, Danielle Parry, says assessment of the damage to outer island is especially needed.

"They're having a look around that country, there was so many parts of this country, impacted by this cyclone, that's it's important to get an overall picture of where the need is," she said.

"Those islands in the Lomaiviti group I know the government is now in a planning process to getting some assistance out there, they're looking at that today."

Ms Parry says at this stage the Fiji government has made no formal request for international assistance.

An Australian Air Force Orion was one of up to a dozen planes helping with the search on Sunday.

An Australian Air Force Orion Photo: AFP / Tony Ashby

Warning about more extreme weather

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister offered his country's support in the recovery effort following the disaster, saying diplomatic channels would identify where support can be extended to Fiji.

Peter O'Neill said the category five cyclone was sadly another example of the greatest threat to Pacific Island nations, and warned the region to prepare for more extreme weather due to climate change.

Mr O'Neill said the threat to Pacific Islands from extreme weather exacerbated by climate change was real, citing the destruction recently brought about by storms of unprecedented magnitude, droughts and heat waves.

As chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Mr O'Neill called on all Pacific nations to place increased focus on preparedness for extreme weather, while working with global partners to limit emissions that he said would exacerbate the problem in the future.

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