Fears for children in Cyclone Winston aftermath

  • 24/02/2016
Aid groups and government authorities have been racing to deal with a critical need for clean water (NZ Defence Force)
Aid groups and government authorities have been racing to deal with a critical need for clean water (NZ Defence Force)

As aid organisations scramble to get supplies across Fiji, new concerns are rising about when children in the cyclone-ravaged country will be able to return to school.

At least 29 people are now confirmed dead in the aftermath of category five Cyclone Winston, according to Fiji's national broadcaster.

Cyclone Winston made landfall late on Saturday as the most powerful storm in Fiji's history, delivering gusts as high as 325km/h.

Aid groups and government authorities have been racing to deal with a critical need for clean water, health supplies and emergency accommodation after powerlines, roads, jetties and homes were destroyed and damaged across the island nation.

But fears are now also rising that students will be unable to return to school with 80 schools damaged in the storm.

The principal of Ratu Kadavulevu School in Tailevu, Peni Senikarawa, said students, were waiting for a Ministry of Education decision on whether they would return.

"Nearly all the classrooms are down. We have damaged windows and roofs blown off. We may not be able to start on time, but if government wants us to start after a week then it may be on a limited scale," he said.

Save the Children said another 30 schools were being used as emergency centres and many would be unable to return to classes next week.

"We know from decades of experience in emergencies that the longer children are out of school, higher the risk that they may drop out of school," Save the Children Fiji chief Iris Low-McKenzie said.

She said the group would be working with the government to try to get ever rudimentary classes going as soon as possible.

"Education, even non-formal lessons, will give children who have lived through this terrible ordeal a chance at normality.

In a statement on Tuesday, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said the government was working 24/7 to restore electricity.

"We've identified downed powerlines and have begun repairing our fallen towers. Power has been restored to some areas, but in others including our Western Division damage to our power network is extensive," he said.

A New Zealand Defence Force C-130 Hercules arrived in Suva this week carrying relief supplies and a team made up of NZDF personnel, Fire Service and Ministry of Health staff.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully on Monday announced an additional $1.8m in aid funding.

Commercial flights in and out of the country have resumed.

There were 310 New Zealanders registered as being in the country at the time of the cyclone, according to the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

NZN