People living in remote parts of Fiji are being urged to immediately bury loved ones who died in a powerful cyclone rather than waiting for post-mortems. Government spokesman Ewan Perrin said many remote islands and isolated communities still do not have electricity or refrigeration, so people should bury the dead in the interests of public health and safety. The official death toll from Cyclone Winston has reached 42 with at least four others still missing.

The cyclone tore through the Pacific Island chain with winds that reached 177mph, making it the strongest storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere. A 10-month-old baby is among those missing and presumed dead from the massive cyclone. The boy's parents told a local television station they lost hold of him amid ferocious winds and floodwaters that rose to their necks.

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 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."

Cyclone Winston Fiji
Asesela Sadola Fong (blue shirt) and his family pose where their house used to beFeroz Khalil for Mai Life Magazine via Getty Images
Cyclone Winston Fiji
Kalisi holds her three-year-old son Tuvosa in the remnants of her house in Rakiraki DistrictUnicef/Getty Images
Cyclone Winston Fiji
Davendra Kumar and his niece are seen after they lost their home in Tuvu LautokaFeroz Khalil for Mai Life Magazine via Getty Images
Cyclone Winston Fiji
Naresh Kumar of Tuvu Lautoka looks at the remains of his houseFeroz Khalil for Mai Life Magazine via Getty Images
Cyclone Winston Fiji
A fallen tree is seen lying on the remains of Alena Bera's house in Mission Compound, BaFeroz Khalil for Mai Life Magazine via Getty Images
Cyclone Winston Fiji
A cyclone-damaged petrol station is seen in the town of BaFeroz Khalil for Mai Life Magazine via Getty Images
Cyclone Winston Fiji
Makereta Nasiki, 13, walks through a flooded corridor in her home in Ba on Viti Levu IslandUnicef/Getty Images
Cyclone Winston Fiji
Families prepare for another night in an evacuation centre in Ba on Viti Levu IslandUnicef/Getty Images
Cyclone Winston Fiji
Kolora, 26, holds her daughter Semaima, 2, in what is left of her home in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston in Rakiraki districtUnicef/Getty Images
Cyclone Winston Fiji
Ten-year-old Lusiana (R) helps her grandmother and aunt sort through clothing for her family in Rakiraki district in Ra provinceUnicef/Getty Images
Cyclone Winston Fiji
A family spend their evening together in candlelight after a complete loss of powerSteven Saphore/AFP
Cyclone Winston Fiji
Children play on the swollen Rakiraki river near Rakiraki Village on the northern coast of Viti Levu, Fiji's largest islandUnicef/Getty Images
Cyclone Winston Fiji
Makereta Nasiki, 13, sits in her room in her cyclone-damaged house in the town of Ba on Viti Levu IslandUnicef/Getty Images
Cyclone Winston Fiji
Tevita repairs the roof of his house in TailevuSteven Saphore/AFP
Cyclone Winston Fiji
Ikavatu from the village of Namena in Tailevu gestures towards his damaged house after Cyclone Winston swept through the areaSteven Saphore/AFP
Cyclone Winston Fiji
Micola, 18, and Lusiana, 17, sit in an evacuation centre in Ra Province, Viti Levu IslandUnicef/Getty Images

Perrin told AP 45,000 people are 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.

Perrin said authorities have a good grasp now on the extent of the destruction from Cyclone Winston after getting aerial images from the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He said they hope to begin distributing 20 satellite phones soon to places still without communication links. He said that within a few days of flooding, mosquitoes start to breed so authorities are urging people not to leave standing water anywhere in order to prevent an increase in illnesses such as Zika and dengue fever.

International aid agencies said supplies were being delivered but the scale of the damage to infrastructure, particularly jetties and communications equipment, was making it hard to reach remote communities where help was most needed. Care Australia spokesman Dylan Quinnell said there had still been no contact with some remote communities, including one at Yasawa on the north-west coast of Fiji's largest island, Viti Levu, since the cyclone made landfall on Saturday. Others had been reached using radios dropped by the New Zealand air force.

Ahmad Sami, the acting head of the International Red Cross in the Pacific, said providing shelter and water remained immediate priorities. "Volunteers on the ground are saying the destruction is like nothing which they have ever seen before," Sami said. "Houses have collapsed, communications are still down, power transmission is down, wharves are still not accessible and roads and highways have been damaged."

Cyclone Winston Fiji
A worker from Suva's City Council fills residents' buckets with fresh water after power outages caused by Cyclone Winston stopped the pumps from working throughout Fiji's capitalSteven Saphore/Reuters
Cyclone Winston Fiji
The refrigerated section of a supermarket is empty of products after power losses due to Cyclone Winston in Fiji's capital SuvaSteven Saphore/Reuters
Cyclone Winston Fiji
New Zealand Fire Service Urban Search and Rescue personnel board a New Zealand Air Force 757 aircraft at Base Ohakea near Palmerston North, bound for Fiji to assist with assessment and reconstruction following Tropical Cyclone WinstonNew Zealand Defence Force/Reuters
Cyclone Winston Fiji
Aid supplies including generators, ration packs and water containers are unloaded by Fijian soldiers from a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft in SuvaNew Zealand Defence Force/Reuters
Cyclone Winston Fiji
An Australian Army Taipan MRH-90 helicopter is unloaded from a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A aircraft at Fiji's Nausori International Airport near SuvaAustralian Defence Force/Reuters
Cyclone Winston Fiji
Members of Joint Task Force 635 reconnaissance and assessment team prepare to disembark a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A aircraft upon their arrival at Nausori airport near Fiji's Cyclone Winston-hit capital SuvaAustralian Defence Force/Reuters
Cyclone Winston Fiji
England players pose for a photograph during training at Pennyhill Park Hotel, Bagshot, Surrey, with a message saying "Hope and Prayers" in support of the people of Fiji after Cyclone WinstonPaul Childs/Reuters

There are fears the death toll could rise when communication is established with the smaller islands where thousands of people live in tin or wooden shacks in low-lying areas. Fiji is made up of an archipelago of more than 300 islands, with a population of around 900,000.