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Fiji Scrambles to Provide Aid as Cyclone Toll Rises

This photo taken Dec. 19, 2020, and released by Fiji Red Cross shows devastation after remote villages were flattened by Cylone Yasa on Vanua Levu Island.

Reconnaissance flights showed entire villages wiped out in Fiji on Saturday as authorities put the cost of devastating Cyclone Yasa at hundreds of millions of dollars and the death toll rose to four.

A state of natural disaster has been declared for 30 days as emergency services scrambled to provide food and clothing to the worst affected areas.

The superstorm slammed into Fiji's second largest island Vanua Levu late Thursday, leaving a trail of destruction.

Of the 24,000 people who evacuated their homes at the height of the storm, 16,113 are still unable to return.

A New Zealand Air Force reconnaissance flight flew over the area on Saturday to assess the scale of the damage, with reports of houses, crops and entire livelihoods wiped out.

The storm also damaged schools and caused widespread flooding and landslides.

More than 93,000 people were affected, and the number of casualties may rise when communications are restored to hard-hit areas, the National Disaster Management Office said in a statement.

Communications with the eastern Lau islands group were cut during the storm and the extent of damage there was unknown.

National Disaster Management Office director Vasiti Soki said that while it would take days to assess the full scale of the damage, "we are likely looking at hundreds of millions of dollars."

She said the immediate focus was on restoring critical infrastructure, reestablishing communication with severely affected areas and maintaining public safety.

The deaths of a 45-year-old man and a 3-month-old baby were confirmed after the storm swept through on Friday, and Soko said two more bodies had since been found.

One, a 70-year-old man, was inside his home when the roof blew away and timber fell on his head.

"There were villages that were totally wiped out by the storm surge and the only clothes (the villagers have) are those on their backs," Fiji Red Cross operations manager Maciu Nokelvu told AFP.

"We are providing temporary shelters with the provision of tarpaulins and shelter toolkits, and dry clothes,” Nokelvu said. "The most devastated area is in the second largest island Vanua Levu, however we haven't received any information from the Lau group of islands on the eastern side."

More than 10,000 food parcels were being prepared for distribution on Sunday.

Yasa weakened after leaving Fiji and initially headed toward Tonga.

It has since veered south, away from the islands, although a heavy rain warning and flash flood advisory remain in force for parts of Tonga.