Care Australia said officials in Suva confirmed the body count had jumped steeply from six previously, amid fears the number will continue to rise as news filters in from remote areas.

"Care Australia can confirm that figure of 17 dead," a Care spokesman told media after a briefing with disaster management officials in the Fijian capital.

Severe tropical cyclone Winston, the first category five storm in Fiji, hit the Pacific nation overnight Saturday, packing wind gusts of 325 kilometres per hour, leaving a trail of destruction.

No immediate breakdown of the fatalities was available but the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation reported many were from the hard-hit west of the country and seven fishermen were missing at sea.

The cyclone, the strongest ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, flattened scores of homes, crippled infrastructure and forced terrified residents to shelter in evacuation centres.

International tourists caught up in the disaster began to leave as flights resumed at Nadi airport after a two-day suspension.

Air New Zealand confirmed one of its aircraft departed at 9:30 am (local time) and other carriers including Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Fiji Airways were also expected to begin operations again.

Fiji's economy relies on tourism and the island chain is a major destination for Australians and New Zealanders.

With communications still down in many areas, Tourism Minister Faiyaz Siddiq Koya assured concerned relatives unable to contact their families that "all visitors are safe and comfortable."

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