WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Fijians in remote places were being urged Thursday to immediately bury loved ones who died in a powerful cyclone rather than waiting for autopsies.
Government spokesman Ewan Perrin said that many remote islands and isolated communities still do not have electricity or refrigeration, and so the government is asking people to bury the dead in the interests of public health and safety.
The death toll from Cyclone Winston remained at 42 Thursday with at least four others still missing. The cyclone tore through the Pacific Island chain last weekend with winds that reached 177 miles (285 kilometers) per hour, making it the strongest storm in Fiji's recorded history.
Perrin said authorities have now managed to travel to all the islands affected by the storm but still haven't reached a handful of isolated communities.
He said people who do bury their dead are being asked to recall as many details as they can, such as the time of death and the events that preceded it.
"It would take several days for pathologists to reach some of these sites and there's no power for refrigeration," he said.
He said 45,000 people are now staying in emergency shelters after thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed. In some cases, he said, entire communities might be moved to safer ground when it comes time to rebuild.
The government is distributing aid and satellite phones and hopes to soon move into the rebuilding phase of the recovery, he said.
Joseph Hing, a Fijian who works for UNICEF, wrote about his experience traveling to hard-hit Koro Island, where at least 10 people have died.
"As we sailed closer, we started to smell the dead carcasses of livestock that were floating past the ships," he said.
He said uplifted coral created a hazard on the sea's surface and that when they could see the island clearly "It looked like someone took a torch and just burned from one side to the other."