Towns and villages in the Fiji Islands were decimated by Cyclone Winston, the strongest recorded tropical storm in the Pacific region, during the evening of Saturday 20 February 2016. The villages in northern Viti Levu and southern Vanua Levu and the inhabited islands in between were hardest hit by devastating winds that reached up to 350 kilometres per hour.
The communities were given warnings that the cyclone was approaching Suva and that it would hit between midnight and 1:00am on Sunday. Instead, the storm changed course and travelled north west and arrived seven hours earlier than anticipated. In the region of Fiji where the cyclone was most severe, families had to abandon their shaking, disintegrating homes and shelters. Completely exposed to the elements, their only refuge was to lay low and huddle in the long grass while the raging winds and torrential rains scattered all their belongings across the country side, with very little of it ever to be seen again. In the wake of this frightening experience, many families learnt that they had lost absolutely everything.
As news of the devastation caused by Cyclone Winston spread around the world, many wanted to know what they could do or how they could help the communities of the Fiji Islands recover from the destruction and loss that had been experienced by so many. This was very difficult to access, as all villages were isolated by large amounts of debris that covered the roads. Only after some days could District Elder Jiona Bale and our congregation leaders reach all our brethren and identify the urgently required needs of many.
The response to the call for donations was quick and generous, with contributions of $AU13,100 to NACare Foundation.
In the first instance the immediate basic needs of families who had lost almost everything were addressed. Our primary focus was those who could be identified as being remote from the major highway and who could not get to the immediate support provided by the major NGOs. They were provided with basic goods that included cooking pots, kettles, and utensils for preparing meals. Each family was given plates, bowls, cups and cutlery for the family. Tarpaulins were purchased to cover and waterproof temporary roofs and shelters. Buckets and soap were arranged as well as much appreciated mosquito coils. In addition, parcels of basic food that included bags of split peas, rice and flour, coffee and tea, powder milk and sugar were purchased for families in need.
Now that the immediate needs of these communities are being met, we are identifying recovery projects that we can support the Fiji Islands communities with.