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Death toll in Fiji jumps to 20 as Cyclone Winston cleanup begins

By Andrew V. Pestano Follow @AVPLive9 Contact the Author   |   Feb. 22, 2016 at 9:27 AM

SUVA, Fiji, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Cleanup operations have begun in Fiji after Category 5 Cyclone Winston devastated the region, killing at least 20 people.

Rescue workers expect the death toll could rise as some outlying islands that suffered severe damage had yet to receive aid. Several islands of the country remain without power. Hundreds of homes were destroyed. More than 1,200 people were in evacuation centers.

Fiji declared a state of emergency and called on the aid of private companies to help provide transportation and relief items. People are urged to stay indoors.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama on Saturday described the storm as "an ordeal of the most grievous kind."

Winds reaching about 184 mph lashed the tiny Pacific island nation, uprooting trees, causing heavy flooding and knocking out power.

"It is likely that smaller villages across Fiji will have suffered the most, given their infrastructures would be too weak to withstand the power of a category 5 cyclone," said Alice Clements, a spokeswoman for UNICEF in the Pacific who lives in Fiji. "Families may have lost their homes and crops, therefore leaving them without shelter, food and a livelihood."

Nadi International Airport will open for passengers Monday. Tourism Minister Faiyaz Siddiq Koya said all tourists were safe and there was no significant damage to most major hotels on the main island.

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