Cyclone damage in Fiji is set to be assessed today after warnings were cancelled in most areas.
Tropical cyclone Tomas, which swept through Fiji with gusts stronger than 200km/h during the past few days, has been downgraded from category four to three, said the Fiji Meteorological Service at 5am.
Fiji's southern Lau islands are still being warned of possible coastal flooding, thunderstorms, damaging swells, rough seas and gusts of up to nearly 100km/h. A gale warning is in force for Ono-i-Lau, Vatoa and nearby islands, but warnings for the rest of Fiji have been cancelled.
One woman has already been confirmed killed by the cyclone and there have been unconfirmed reports of more deaths.
Power, communications and houses have been taken out by the cyclone's winds, and uprooted trees have blocked roads to damaged areas.
Fiji Red Cross disaster co-ordinator Vuli Gauna said the first step in recovery efforts was sending planes to look at the extent of damage over the northern parts of the country hit hardest by Tomas.
Fijian authorities yesterday announced a state of emergency in the north and east, the Fiji Times Online reported.
More than 18,000 people are now in evacuation centres - predominantly in the north.
"I think some lost their lives but it is just a few, but what we have been hearing from some of the islands is the devastation and the wind and the storm surges were too much," Fiji National Disaster Management Office director Pajiliai Dobui said yesterday.
Fiji Red Cross spokesman Vuli Gauna said emergency services would first concentrate on getting any help required to those trapped or injured in islands to the north of Vanua Levu.
However, rescue personnel were hampered by strong wind and storm warnings, which remained in place around much of the country.
Red Cross teams in five northern centres were preparing to mobilise, and the organisation was in contact with its Australian and New Zealand counterparts, Mr Gauna said.
Staff at the Nukubati Resort on Vanua Levu - who on Monday night barricaded themselves into stormproof buildings - were yesterday relieved the storm passed over without causing damage.
Employee Asena Steiner said the resort was fortunate that a mountain range had spared it from the worst of the cyclone and damage had been limited to "a few leaves and a few twigs".
"[Today] there's a very beautiful breeze coming in from the west. It is as if nothing happened."
As those in the north began damage assessments, Tomas rounded on eastern Fiji and a number of low-lying outer islands.
Prime Minister John Key said New Zealand was on stand-by to help.
The cyclone was expected to start moving away from the islands about midnight.
Commercial flights into Fiji resumed yesterday morning - NZ Herald