Red Cross mobilises relief efforts as Cyclone Winston leaves a trail of destruction across Fiji

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By Navinesh Kumar, IFRC

Last night Fijians felt the full force of Tropical Cyclone Winston as it passed over the country’s main island group. According to the Fiji National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) five people have been killed and thousands affected by the Category-5 storm, the strongest on record to ever strike Fiji.

The government declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew to safeguard the public during the worst of the storm. Although the capital Suva was not directly in the path of the cyclone its impact was felt.

“We were safe inside but the gale force winds blowing all night were deafening,” said Ahmad Sami, spokesman with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Fiji. “This morning there were some downed power lines and fallen trees but we are more concerned about the fate of communities outside the urban centres who were directly in the path of the storm, particularly in the outer islands.”

According to media reports, thousands of houses have been badly damaged in western and northern parts of Fiji, including Rakiraki, Tavua, Ba, Lautoka, Savusavu, Lau, Taveuni and Nausori. Homes have been flattened and roofs torn off by the 250 kph winds.

An estimated 1,066 people are currently sheltered in 35 evacuation centres across the island of Vanua Levu. There are 13 centres open in Macuata province in the north of Fiji, accommodating 416 evacuees, 190 of whom are children.

Naziah Ali, a resident from Vatulaulau, Ba, in western Fiji, said she never experienced such an event.

“My house is fine but our neighbours suffered the full force of the storm because their homes weren’t strong. Last night three families in my neighbourhood had to seek refuge at my house,” said Ali. “This morning when it was calm, we went to see their homes, some of which were completely smashed on the ground by the gale force winds.”

“It was such a sad morning to see people I have known all my life, lose everything overnight. It will take a huge effort for them to rebuild and start life all over again”

Some areas have been inaccessible due to fallen trees, debris and fallen power lines and electric poles.

As Cyclone Winston continues to move away from Fiji, the Fiji Red Cross has mobilised over 300 staff and volunteers in 14 of its branches across the country to support relief efforts.

“In the coming days our teams will make sure that people are safe and that they have the help they need to get through the weeks ahead,” said Eseroma Ledua, Operations Manager at the Fiji Red Cross.

The first Red Cross emergency response teams left Suva today to begin assessing the damage and distributing relief supplies mainly in squatter settlements and evacuation centres near to the capital. Initially the Red Cross response will focus on conducting assessments and providing relief in areas where the storm is known to have caused significant damage including Rakiraki, Ba and Tavua in the north of Viti Levu.

“People will need emergency shelter materials such as tarpaulins to repair their homes and they will most likely need relief items such as plastic jerry cans to collect water as well as other household supplies they may have lost in the storm,” said Ahmad Sami.

The IFRC is releasing funds from its Disaster Response Emergency Fund to support the Fiji Red Cross emergency operation. The Fiji Red Cross is also launching a national appeal to fundraise locally.

The Fijian government plans to undertake an aerial survey of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu this afternoon. A separate assessment will be undertaken tomorrow of the Yasawas. A heavy rain warning remains in force for Fiji and people are urged to remain alert as some areas might experience flash flooding.