Fiji aid relief Cyclone Winston death toll
In this photo, supplied by the Mai Life Magazine, a Total Service Station is seen destroyed in Ba Town, Fiji, Feb. 22, 2016. Getty Images/Feroz Khalil

Fiji said Thursday it may need more foreign aid to continue relief and rescue work as the death toll from tropical cyclone Winston rose to 44, according to reports. About 35,000 people were left homeless after the cyclone hit the country with winds of up to 202 mph, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

According to a Thursday report by state-run Fiji Broadcasting Corporation (FBC), Finance Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum estimated that the economic impact from cyclone Winston stood at $1 billion, and was expected to rise further. The figure was only the initial estimate, announced days after the country was struck by the cyclone, the report said, adding that international aid received so far was being directed to the Disaster Management Office, which was coordinating urgent supplies of basic food items and other relief work.

“If you take into account the number of homes all around Fiji that have been damaged or completely demolished, if you look at the impact on agriculture in terms of crops that are on the ground that have been damaged, the ability to plant, ability of people to earn an income and obviously the impact on power lines — you can easily say it is a billion dollar,” Sayed-Khaiyum said, according to FBC.

Australia and New Zealand have so far led the international response, sending planes loaded with supplies, helicopters and medical evacuation teams to the region to help. New Zealand also planned to send two naval ships to the island nation the coming weekend, while France has sent two military transports from New Caledonia, a French territory made up of dozens of islands in the South Pacific region.

Countries like India, China, the United States, Japan and Nauru have also sent financial support to Fiji while the Asian Development Bank announced Wednesday that it would provide $2 million in emergency assistance to the country to help it cope with the destruction caused by the cyclone. ADB President Takehiko Nakao said in a statement Wednesday that the bank would mobilize the relief fund from ADB’s Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund, and will work with the country’s government and development partners to find “priority relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction needs.”

Nakao said in the statement: “I offer my deepest condolences to the people of Fiji for the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston, and my sincere sympathies to those who have lost their loved ones, homes, and livelihoods.”

Fiji’s government spokesman Ewan Perrin told Radio New Zealand (RNZ) on Thursday, according to AFP: “We've had a lot of international assistance already and we're grateful to our friends in the international community,” adding: “But as we go through our more detailed assessments of the damage and area needs we'll be able to go back to the international community and see if we can source some more things.”

He also reportedly said: “It's a widespread disaster. The government's working as hard as it can around the clock to get the materials out to the people in need,” adding: “Obviously with 300 islands and 900,000 people, we can't service everybody at once. So I'd ask for people to be patient, the government is on its way.”

Perrin also told RNZ that over 45,000 people, who constitute about five percent of the population, had to move to evacuation centers after the storm hit. He also said the shelters woudl remain open for as long as needed.

The AFP report cited an estimate from Save the Children, a U.S.-based nonprofit, to say that about 120,000 young people belonged to the communities affected by cyclone Winston. “Alongside lifesaving aid like food, water and healthcare, we need to ensure that children do not continue to be traumatized and distressed by what they have experienced,” Iris Low-McKenzie, the agency’s local chief, reportedly said.