Three weeks on from the worst cyclone in the Pacific
20 Apr 2016 | Blog | Fiji | Emergency Relief
By Stephanie Lalor, Pacific Program Manager
On Saturday 12th of March I travelled with members of the Archdiocesan Disaster Relief Team to visit affected communities hit hard by Tropical Cyclone Winston – regarded to be the worst Cyclone experienced in the Southern Hemisphere so far.
Scenes of Armageddon
As we travelled out of Suva, to the north of Viti Levu the main island of Fiji we started to see some minor damage to houses and trees. However, the further north we got, the more devastating the picture on the ground became.
Despite the visit taking place 3 weeks after Cyclone Winston tore through villages, the scenes of Armageddon remain. Trees were standing like matchsticks completely bare of leaves or snapped in half by the force of the storm, giving a distinctly ‘burnt’ look to the landscape – with no green and communities littered with corrugated iron wrapped around trees that had blown off their roofs in the night.
The community in Rakiraki
We arrived at the community in the afternoon, where 16 out of 22 houses had been destroyed and the remaining six damaged. The only building still standing in the community was the church.
I sat with women and children to talk about what had happened during the cyclone. They told me that most people sought refuge in the church, some in a nearby cave during the cyclone which pummelled the community throughout the night. As the community, which has a population of about 70 people sheltered in the church, howling wind rattled the roof and windows and driving rain poured into the church soaking everyone.
In the morning when they emerged from the church they had lost everything – all their belongings were either destroyed through the rain or completely blown away through the force of the cyclone. Corrugated roofing iron had been blown kilometres away. Three weeks after the cyclone, they’re still trying to salvage the materials to rebuild their homes.
The community has received some support – tents and tarps to provide shelter, food to meet their immediate needs and clothing to replace what was lost. The Archdiocesan team visited the community to undertake an assessment of the impact of the cyclone and identify remaining needs required by the community.
A sense of community
One woman took me around the community to show me the extent of the damage. She showed me her house which she had managed to rebuild with the help of other communities. She said that that was the powerful thing about the community in the face of having lost everything. “We help each other, they help me rebuild my house and then we help them, that’s what we do,” she said.
In talking with the community members they told me that they did not anticipate that the cyclone would do so much damage. One mother told me, “We have had cyclones before in Fiji and they were saying this would be a bad one, but we didn’t think it would be this bad. We weren’t ready for this.”
Responding to the disaster
Although Rakiraki was one of the worst hit districts, luckily there was no loss of life in the community I visited. However, so far the country’s death toll is 44 from Cyclone Winston, a significant loss of life for many small communities. The Archdiocese has been supporting affected communities with immediate relief and psychosocial support to help people address the trauma of this disaster. Just as importantly, we will be supporting communities to better prepare for future disasters so that they are better able to protect themselves from the impacts of disasters like this and rebuild more quickly.
Learn more about Cyclone Winston
Learn more about Disaster Risk Reduction
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