The Fijian assessment team, accompanied by an Australian aid official, arrived back in Suva late this afternoon after undertaking aerial surveillance of remote Fijian areas affected by Cyclone Ami.
The plane spent almost seven (7) hours in the air and flew over all affected areas of Fiji.
Based on the preliminary assessment of the aerial surveillance, overall the damage appears to be less severe than first thought.
Several islands in the Lau Group appear to be the worst affected. The Fijian Navy has been authorised to dispatch a boat, with emergency relief supplies to those islands.
The assessment team reported widespread flooding in the northern parts of Vanua Levu. Crops, vegetation and some houses in the area also sustained cyclone damage, but the major buildings in Labasa are reported to have largely survived the cyclone.
Fijian authorities have also dispatched field assessment teams to affected areas of Vanua Levu.
Roads and airstrips across the affected areas remain intact, allowing relief supplies to be transported to those in need.
Communication has now been restored to many affected areas of Fiji and Air Fiji is resuming normal operations.
Fiji's National Disaster Management Committee (DISMAC) is expected to meet tomorrow in Suva to finalise the assessment from today's flight. Fijian authorities have advised that they will await the finalised assessments before requesting further assistance from donors.
In addition, following a request from the Government of Fiji, Australia is chartering a helicopter to travel to islands and other areas of Fiji that are without landing strips or are accessible only by boat. Fiji's National Disaster Management Committee will determine the final flight plan.
The Fijian assessment team on board the helicopter will be accompanied by an Australian aid official and will carry emergency medical kits. They will conduct both aerial and on-the-ground assessments.
There have been no reports of Australian citizens affected by the cyclone.
The cyclone hit areas of Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island, and Taveuni Island before passing over the Lau and Lomaiviti group of islands.
Cyclone Ami is now tracking southeast into the Southern Ocean, and no longer poses an immediate threat to Fiji or the Kingdom of Tonga.
Reports from Tonga advise that the Kingdom escaped relatively unscathed from the cyclone last night, with only minor damage and no injuries or fatalities reported.
An Australian aid official travelled to the western region of Tongatapu today and has reported that Tongan officials are addressing the minor impact of Cyclone Ami quickly.
Australia, through its overseas aid agency AusAID, has been in regular contact with key Fijian and other Pacific officials since the cyclone formed out of a tropical depression on 12 January.
AusAID has also been working with our French and New Zealand partners and, together with those partner countries, is on stand-by to provide additional support and assistance to the people of the Pacific who have been affected by Cyclone Ami.
We are looking at a range of possible options, including assistance for transport costs, and emergency relief supplies such as shelter, food and medical supplies.
As part of an on-going regional funded program, Australia and other donors have been providing assistance to Fiji to further strengthen its disaster preparedness and management capabilities. This has included training for Fiji's National Disaster Management Office in disaster and risk management, and in disaster preparedness, response and coordination.