Cyclone Winston: Fiji to focus on emergency supplies to isolated islands as recovery begins

February 23, 2016 5:45 pm
Getting emergency supplies to isolated islands is the Fijian government’s top priority as the recovery from Cyclone Winston continues.
Ten people have died on a single small island in Fiji as the total death toll from a powerful cyclone climbed to 29.
Government spokesman Ewan Perrin said the death toll on Koro Island had reached double figures and that most buildings there had been heavily damaged or flattened.
He said a relief vessel with about 30 people aboard had arrived at the island with medical supplies, food and water, and teams were helping to build temporary shelters for the 4500 residents.
“It’s one of the worst hit.”
He said officials also had fears about nearby Taveuni Island, home to about 12,000 people, because contact with people there had been limited.
Phone communications had been rapidly restored in many areas but in others the damage was severe and would take longer to fix.
He said the electricity network across Fiji remained patchy, and in some cases power had been deliberately cut to prevent further damage.
Accessing clean water was also a challenge, and people were being asked to boil their water, treat it with chemicals or drink bottled water.
Unicef spokeswoman Alice Clements said the aerial footage coming in showed a corridor of destruction.
“The imagery is heartbreaking.

A 4WD drives through flood waters after cyclone Winston hit Fiji caused loss of lives and extensive damage to the north west side of the Viti Levu in Fiji. Photo / Brett PhibbsA 4WD drives through flood waters after cyclone Winston hit Fiji caused loss of lives and extensive damage to the north west side of the Viti Levu in Fiji. Photo / Brett Phibbs

“You’re looking down and expecting to see a village and instead you’re seeing a field of debris.”
MetService meteorologist Claire Flynn said there was a 50-50 chance the storm would hit New Zealand.
“At present it is east of New Caledonia, and it is expected to move towards the southeast and then turn southwest tomorrow, while gradually weakening.”
She said Kiwis should still expect a wet weekend if the cyclone missed the country.
“Even if it doesn’t come across us directly there could still be some rain from the tropical air that comes before it, rather than from the cyclone itself.
“If it does hit, it’s looking more likely it will happen early next week rather than the weekend.”
The category 3 cyclone is expected to weaken to a category 2 by tomorrow.
A survivor of Cyclone Winston has described the destruction and devastation in Fiji after the terrifying storm.
World Vision Pacific and Timor-Leste liaison officer David Hesaie and his family survived the storm but he knows of others who were not as lucky.
“I heard of a mother of nine children who left her 10-year-old daughter and toddler at an evacuation centre while she went home to get supplies.
“She did not make it back to the evacuation centre, and her children are now without a mother.”

Aid supplies are unloaded from an RNZAF C-130 Hercules in Suva, Fiji. Photo / SuppliedAid supplies are unloaded from an RNZAF C-130 Hercules in Suva, Fiji. Photo / Supplied

In Suva, the clean-up has started but Mr Hesaie said many trees were blocking roads, and electricity had not yet returned to many parts of the capital.
“The clean-up started quickly on Sunday morning by the city council, and people are working together to recover from Cyclone Winston.”
My roof is still damaged, leaving our family vulnerable to further bad and we have problems with electricity and water.
“I know many other families are the same. Some of my neighbours’ taps are working, but only dirty water is coming out.”
He said the situation was dire outside the main centres.
“My mother’s village is near the three villages that were evacuated by the government before the cyclone.
“Since then, we have had no from them.
“We hope the reason we haven’t heard from them is because there is no electricity for them to charge their mobile phones, but we still worry.”
World Vision has opened an appeal for Kiwis to donate to relief efforts in Fiji, and to help World Vision respond to future emergencies.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown has also announced a Mayoral Fund to provide relief for those affected by the cyclone.
He said the appeal would run alongside local Pacific communities and aid agencies to best help people in Fiji and Tonga.
“Our thoughts are with everyone affected by Cyclone Winston, and particularly the people of Fiji who have sustained loss of life and widespread damage.
“The community in Auckland is already mobilising to help those in need, and the Mayoral Fund will assist in this,” he said.
The mayoral fund committee would also provide containers for donated goods to go to the islands.
As the cyclone bore down on his hilltop home Seru Pepeli had to make the hardest decision of his life.
He needed to get his six children to safety. The roof was lifting and sheets of tin were flying into the sky faster than they could take them down. The walls were shaking and as the family of 12 hunkered down in their shack-like home he knew they had to make a run for it.
But not all of them could go. His mother-in-law, Queenie Baleiwai, cannot walk. There was no way she would make it down the steep journey from the house to the evacuation centre at the bottom of the hill.
There was no time to carry her – and even if there were, the heavy rain was starting to wash out the clay driveway.
They had to leave the elderly disabled woman behind. She would never survive in the two-room house which was decimated by a cyclone in 2013 as well, so they did the only thing they could think of.
They cleared out the 25 chickens from a small, cramped shed beside the house and moved Mrs Baleiwai in.
Days after the cyclone that is where she remains, living in a chicken coop at the top of a hill. She has run out of food and water and the only supplies keeping her alive are the morsels her family can take up to her from their temporary accommodation at the local school.
Mr Pepeli spoke to the Herald about his family’s plight, begging authorities to help get his ailing mother-in-law to safety.
“My home is absolutely damaged. My mother-in-law is living in a chicken house. We cleared all the crap out and put down rugs but it’s still a chicken shed,” he said.
“We need a wheelchair to get her down … we have told the police that we need help, that she needs to come out, but they have not helped us yet.”

Seru Pepeli is forced to live in chicken shed after his home in Lovu was destroyed after Cyclone Winston. Photo / Brett PhibbsSeru Pepeli is forced to live in chicken shed after his home in Lovu was destroyed after Cyclone Winston. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The Pepeli house is simple. Painted mint green, it stands at the top of a shared driveway. In the 2013 cyclone two of the rooms were destroyed and the family had not been able to rebuild them before Winston hit.
So 12 people, including six children, were sharing two small rooms with one outside toilet.
Post Winston the house has no roof or windows and everything the family owned was lost to either Winston or the floods that raged down the hill after the rain. “Everything is just destroyed,” Mr Pepeli said.
“When the cyclone was about to hit on Saturday we all stayed together in one corner. My whole family was there. Then we realised it was not safe.
“We ran and we ran and we ran. The wind was blowing and the rain kept coming and coming. We were so frightened, we were panicking. I had to get my kids out so we went to the school.”
Mr Pepeli said he was devastated his beloved mother-in-law was living in a shed that was built to house animals.
But there was no other choice.
“I am not very happy. What can I do?” he said.
In the shed Mrs Baleiwai sits on the floor next to her granddaughter Litia, whose turn it is to sit with the old woman and look after her. Blankets dry in the searing sun on the shed’s tin roof. The only furniture inside is a chest of drawers and an old television – which is useless because there is still no electricity in the area.
“We come up every day to see her,” Mr Pepeli’s brother Sima tells the Herald.
“We bring food, water. But now there is no food. It is very hard.”
An aid organisation worker told the Herald it was very difficult to assess who needed help and where in Fiji.
Aid workers started arriving on the island only on Monday and were working around the clock to assess the damage and what people needed in terms of supplies.
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