Fiji cyclone death toll could reach 30

Wellington (dpa) - The death toll in the South Pacific island state of Fiji hit by Cyclone Ami this week could be as high as 30, according to reports from the capital Suva on Thursday.

At least 11 deaths have been confirmed and more people are reported missing, but with communications still cut to many isolated areas, officials admit they have little idea of the final casualty count, Radio New Zealand reported.

One of the worst hit areas was Labasa, main town of the stricken Vanua Levu island, which was inundated by floodwaters when the cyclone swept through in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

A Radio New Zealand correspondent said bodies were being cremated in Labasa because the local morgue cannot operate as the town of 20,000 people is still without power after lines were brought down by winds gusting up to 185 kilometres an hour.

Fresh water supplies have also not been restored, said Alison Cupit, of the Fiji Red Cross, who reported roofs had been blown off buildings, trees felled and sugarcane plantations and food crops ruined by swirling flood waters.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, who flew over Fiji's northern and eastern regions in a New Zealand air force plane on Wednesday after declaring them national disaster areas, said the damage would run into millions of dollars.

He said Fiji navy patrol boats with emergency food, medical and shelter supplies were heading for the affected isolated islands, and the cabinet will meet in Suva on Friday to rejig the country's budget to allocate relief and reconstruction funds.

Qarase said international aid would be needed to help Fiji recover from the effects of the cyclone.

dpa db rk AP-NY-01-15-03 2342EST

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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 01/15/2003 23:42:44


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