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Fijians begin to rebuild after cyclone Tomas (Koro Island)

Villagers on the cyclone-battered Fijian island of Koro had their chainsaws, shovels and assorted tools out today clearing roads, rebuilding homes and dealing with damage from winds which gusted to 240kmh.

Koro, to the northeast of the main island of Viti Levu, was badly damaged by Cyclone Tomas in the last two days, with many homes among the island's 14 villages badly damaged or destroyed. Fijians hunkered down during cyclone Tomas

Fijians hunkered down during cyclone Tomas

However, the islanders were resourceful and independent and had already started rebuilding, a spokesman for the Dere Bay Resort on the western side of the island, Julian Hennings told NZPA .

He said during the cyclone, when winds gusted to 240kmh, islanders helped each other.

"They depend on each other. That is the way they have been living for hundreds of years. They are quite self-sufficient."

But this time they may need help from outside the island community because many of the houses were built from modern materials shipped from the mainland, rather than traditional materials.

A New Zealand Air Force Hercules has arrived in Fiji loaded with relief supplies. It was also expected to fly over the most badly damaged islands to give government authorities an assessment of the damage.

One person was confirmed dead but authorities expected the death toll to rise. Many areas had lost power and communications.

On Koro, houses and trees were blown over and the main road on the island was covered with rocks blown from the sea by heavy winds.

The island was lucky to have had two days' warning of the approaching cyclone and many of the 4500 people who live in the 14 villages on the island went to village community halls for shelter.

The halls were well build and strong but as the people sheltered in them they knew their homes were being blown down, he said. Damage was extensive.

"Some of the houses have blown away. A lot of trees have been uprooted, some of the roads have been blocked off because the waves have picked up rocks and coral and have dumped it on the road so there is a major cleanup happening today."

Mr Hennings said the islands had not experienced a category four cyclone for several years but they were lucky this one was not accompanied by very heavy rain.

He walked around the island yesterday and on the eastern side the damage was severe, not only to houses but also to one of four new jetties.

He said of the 14 villages about seven had been badly damaged on the exposed eastern side of the island where they met the full force of the cyclone.

While rebuilding had already begun much of the roofing iron was unusable because it had been twisted and ripped by the strength of the wind.

Cyclone Tomas had been slow moving, not like other cyclones which hit the islands and quickly moved on.

"This one took its time and it really got to the villages and did a lot of damage."

Cyclone Tomas was expected to pass Fiji's southernmost island, Ono-i-Lau, today, and the hurricane force winds were likely to start weakening.

NZPA

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