As aid efforts intensified, communications were established with some of the worst-hit remote communities, revealing the scale of the disaster.

"The official death toll now is 29, another eight bodies were found on the island of Koro since yesterday," government spokesman Ewan Perrin told in a phone interview.

Severe tropical cyclone Winston, the most powerful storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, lashed the island nation overnight Saturday, packing wind gusts of 325 kilometres (202 miles) per hour and leaving a trail of destruction.

About 8,500 people are still sheltering in evacuation centres and Perrin said some villages had hardly any buildings still standing.

The rising toll makes Winston the deadliest cyclone to ever hit Fiji, according to the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, which said the previous worst was cyclone Eric in 1993.

The New Zealand Air Force photographs show entire villages flattened by the first category five storm to hit Fiji.

Many homes were reduced to piles of kindling, with roofing and furniture strewn about by winds that were strong enough to strip leaves and branches from trees.

In one image a lone man stands on the tin roof of his ruined home, apparently waving both arms at the military plane as it passes overhead.

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