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Cyclone Damage in Fiji Being Assessed - 2003-01-15

Rescue and aid workers in Fiji are assessing the damage left by Cyclone Ami, which hit the island chain earlier this week. Communications and electricity remain down in parts of Fiji and two children and a boat are missing.

A New Zealand air force plane and two patrol boats headed for Fiji's eastern and northern islands on Wednesday to survey the damage caused by Cyclone Ami. Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase joined the crew on board the survey flight.

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff said the plane will complete its survey by Wednesday evening. "They'll fly over the outlying islands. It will be a six-hour flight that would give us the first real information about the scale of the damage. We're anticipating that some areas will be devastated by high winds but also high tidal swells," Mr. Goff said. At its peak over Fiji, Cyclone Ami had wind gusts of nearly 200 kilometers an hour. The hardest hit areas include at least 16 islands in the east, as well as parts of the northern islands. So far, it is not clear if there have been any deaths, but at least two children are missing. Many houses were leveled by winds or hit by flooding, and crops have been flattened. Akisi Korobrau from the National Disaster Management office in Fiji says that damage estimates are still preliminary. "We have received reports of people have lost their homes and even a village where most of their homes including their church has been blown down. Two children went missing from that church and there is a boat that we still have not contacted and they have not contacted us either," Ms. Korobrau said.

She added that many areas of Fiji remain without communication and power.

Meteorologists say Cyclone Ami was heading south and is likely to miss Tonga. The cyclone is the second to hit the South Pacific in recent weeks. In late December, Cyclone Zoe struck remote parts of the Solomon Islands northwest of Fiji.