John is a teacher from Navesau Adventist High School on Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. He lost his house during the wild winds of Cyclone Winston this past February. Not quite all of it, since three of the four walls still stand and the floor is there. But the roof was completely blown off and strewn throughout the rest of the village, invisible among all the other roofs scattered around. The missing wall to John’s house lies collapsed on the ground. Inside the place looks like a bomb went off.
On February 20, 2016, the Category 5 tropical Cyclone Winston made landfall on the main Fijian island of Viti Levu. With wind gusts of up to 320 kilometres per hour, it cut a trail of destruction across many Fijian islands and is one of the most severe cyclones ever to hit the South Pacific. It is estimated some 31,200 homes were damaged or destroyed, leaving 131,000 people in need of immediate shelter assistance.
John says, “At least I have free air conditioning now.” Talk about looking on the bright side!
John’s house is completely uninhabitable. Wrecked appliances lie on the floor among damp clothes and damaged books. His wife’s precious library is ruined.
Yet John remains remarkably upbeat. “This isn’t too bad compared to those who lost family members,” he says. “All these books and tables and stuff can be replaced. Those who lost family members—that’s beyond repair—and our prayers are with them. We can buy new books and we can buy new tables and chairs. I thank God that we didn’t lose our lives.”
The cyclone lasted for four to six hours. When it struck, he and his wife, Dalcie, along with their two-year-old daughter, Gloria, ran into the dining hall of the school where John teaches to find shelter and climbed on a table in the kitchen because the whole place was flooded.
“It was terrible,” he says, “one of a kind. I’ve never experienced anything so devastating—broken glass, the sound of rushing wind and corrugated iron flying around. I had a mixture of feelings going through my head. It was like being in a horror movie and much more, because I was experiencing it firsthand.”
The dining hall usually serves hundreds of boarding students, but after the cyclone struck, the students all returned home for a few weeks until they could be relocated to another campus. It will be months before the school buildings are repaired and classes can resume. A week after the cyclone, the dining hall was still flooded. Mud was smeared all over the floor, part of the roof was missing and the wind continued to howl through broken windows.
John and I stepped through the ruins of his house. “I really don’t know how to describe it,” he says. “This used to be our home and now it’s completely destroyed. The hurricane arrived a bit sooner than had been predicted, so my family grabbed a little bit of food and ran for safety with only the clothes on their backs.”
Because ADRA had prepositioned supplies in three locations, it was almost immediately able to respond to the worst-hit areas.
One of the first aid organisations that responded to the tragedy was the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). ADRA has worked closely with the Fiji government to help as many people as possible.
Because ADRA had prepositioned hygiene supplies in three locations before the cyclone arrived, it was able to respond almost immediately to the worst-hit areas after the danger had passed. Altogether, more than 10,000 people received urgent food and hygiene supplies.
The food packs contained rice, lentils, tins of tuna, brown sugar and biscuits, enough to sustain a family of six for a week. The hygiene kits included antibacterial soap, sanitary pads, a 10-litre water container, water purification tablets, a first aid kit and a water filtration system, helping avoid the spread of waterborne diseases.
In partnership with Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing, ADRA also delivered almost 6000 packets of Weet-Bix cereal biscuits and So Good soy milk to remote communities that had missed out on the earlier food assistance.
While Fiji is no longer in the news, the magnitude of the devastation means that the long-term recovery will take years. Further responses are continuing, with ADRA securing $US110,000 in funding from the United Nations Flash Appeal and €300,000 from the European Union to provide further shelter and hygiene needs. ADRA is also rebuilding schools and helping students in the villages return to their studies.
For now, John’s family lives in the school dining hall. It’s proving a challenge. “It’s difficult at the moment,” John says. “But we’ll see what turns up and how God provides.
John surveying the damage Cyclone Winston inflicted on what used to be his lounge room.
You Can Help
To help ADRA Assist those in poverty or crisis, send a tax deductible donation to:
PO Box 129
Wahroonga NSW 2076
Phone: 1800 242 372
ADRA New Zealand
Private Mail Bag 76900
Phone: 0800 4999 111