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Cyclone Winston: Frustration grows as help fails to reach devastated communities in Fiji

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By Pacific affairs reporter Liam Fox and staff

There is growing frustration among Fijians who say they are yet to receive any help after a devastating cyclone struck the country on the weekend.

More than 1,000 homes were destroyed in Rakiraki, a major town on the north coast of Fiji's main island Viti Levu, and 500 have been partially damaged, local officials said.

The town looks like a bomb had gone off, with barely a building left unscathed.

Despite the devastation, the only sign of any aid relief is coming from the business community, which has handed out free cartons of water along Viti Levu's north coast.

Tropical Cyclone Winston hit late on Saturday with winds of up to 330 kilometres per hour.

National Disaster Management Office director Akapusi Tuifagalele said about 14,000 people remained in evacuation centres, including nearly 6,500 in the Western Division.

"All government departments are working around the clock to ensure people who have been affected are assisted in every way possible," he told the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation.

At a school that was turned into an evacuation centre in the town of Ba, about 80 people are living in five classrooms.

Fulori Sukulu, who is staying there with her family after losing the roof of her house, said people were becoming frustrated that no help had arrived three days after the cyclone.

"We need tarpaulins to cover our roof, bedding, foodstuffs ... easy to cook with," she said.

Ms Sukulu said all her family had to survive on were biscuits and tea.

The official death toll stands at 29 but authorities are yet to make contact with smaller islands impacted by the cyclone.

Officials said the latest eight deaths were reported on the island of Koro, one of the most severely affected by the category five cyclone.

Footage from Taveuni, Fiji's third-largest island, showed widespread damage to buildings and homes.

Fiji Red Cross said it was concerned there may be badly injured people on outlying islands who were unable to get medical help.

There are reports assistance is starting to reach some isolated areas, but others remain out of contact with the outside world.

Red Cross director Filipe Nainoca said relief teams had been unable to get to Rakiraki, which is believed to be among the worst-hit areas on the main island.

"The unfortunate thing about Rakiraki is that our own volunteers, the very people that we look to respond to these disasters, have been severely, severely affected," he said.

"Some of them are in evacuation centres, so we have to send a support team in from the outside.

"Shelter's an issue, soon water will be an issue... we need to get to these communities as quickly as possible."

Mr Nainoca said aerial assessments had confirmed extensive destruction on outer islands, as well as along the western coast of the main island, Viti Levu.

Australia sends help to cyclone-ravaged country

The Australian Defence Force sent four rescue helicopters and a medical evacuation team to help with recovery efforts.

A C-17 Globemaster carrying personnel and vital supplies arrived in Fiji overnight after departing from Townsville.

They will be joined by four MRH90 helicopters and an aeromedical evacuation team, which will provide relief to the outlying islands.

Mr Tuifagalele said the Australian helicopters would be used in medical evacuations and to deliver aid and assess damage.

Water and hygiene kits, as well as shelter kits and health supplies, will also be handed out.

P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft in the Pacific are on standby to help assess the damage, as well as HMAS Canberra.

The Federal Government said it could provide further assistance if needed.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation