Alison Cupit, of the Fiji Red Cross, told Radio New Zealand news of the tragedy came from the first people to reach the capital Suva from the stricken Vanua Levu island, which was battered by winds gusting to 185 kilometres an hour early Tuesday morning.
She said they reported flood waters three metres deep had swamped new housing settlements in the island's main town Labasa, whose population of 20,000 remained without power, communications and fresh water supplies.
Television New Zealand reported one piece of good news, an unconfirmed report that one of the two children missing believed dead when a church in which they were seeking shelter collapsed had been found alive in the rubble.
A New Zealand air force plane carrying Fiji's Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and aid experts flew over Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island with a population of 160,000 people, and a chain of other stricken islands in Ami's path on Wednesday to survey the damage.
Preliminary reports indicated that the cyclone had caused widespread devastation over the island group's northern and eastern administrative regions which the government declared national disaster areas.
A spokesman for the Fiji disaster management centre told Radio New Zealand that some isolated eastern islands had reported extensive damage from tidal waves.
The Kingdom of Tonga, which had taken emergency precautions after it was reported to lie in the expected path of the cyclone, was buffeted by huge winds but appeared to have escaped heavy damage, according to reports in New Zealand.
dpa db pw AP-NY-01-15-03 0051EST
Copyright (c) 2003 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 01/15/2003 00:51:29
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