Relief starts to reach Fiji’s remote communities, but more needed

By Joe Cropp, IFRC

‘Nana’ Lalita leads the Fiji Red Cross assessment team through her house, following the same path she took on the evening Cyclone Winston made landfall on her doorstep.

They start in kitchen, its roof ripped off and walls stripped bare by winds gusting up to 315km/h. Next, they pass through the bedrooms, the floors covered in mud and silt left by waves that surged through the house. Lastly they come to the bathroom at the rear of the house. The walls still intact, it is here that Lalita and her husband, Harry, huddled until the cyclone past, wondering if they were going to survive.

“The waves have never come this far before,” says Lalita, pointing to a dark line 10 metres past their house and the remains of a vegetable garden. “What the wind didn’t destroy, the waves took away.”

For now the elderly couple are staying with a neighbour, whose house lost one wall but still has a roof. Each day they return to their home and sift through the ruins in an attempt to start rebuilding their lives.

It is a story that is routinely repeated to the Red Cross assessment teams as they walk along the coast road leading to the town of Rakiraki, visiting remote houses and communities, and making the difficult decisions on how to priorities the available relief supplies.

More than 300 Fiji Red Cross staff and volunteers are now in the field, reaching further out into affected communities, assessing the most urgent needs and delivering relief supplies to evacuation centres and devastated households.

These teams have now been able to reach some of the worst affected communities around Rakiraki and on the remote islands to the east. These island villages bore the brunt of the category five cyclone as it swept across the archipelago before making landfall at Rakiraki.

Fiji’s government estimates that almost 350,000 people who were living in the cyclone’s path could be affected. Some 50,000 people are still in evacuation centres, while many more are living with neighbours or in their partially destroyed homes.

The international Red Cross Movement is flying in much needed supplies, as local resources dwindle. These include blankets, jerry cans and kitchen sets, along with tools and tarpaulins that will enable people to make emergency repairs to their homes.

Meanwhile, outside Laliat’s destroyed home, Red Cross volunteer Sisi writes down the details of the visit in her assessment book, marking what is most needed. They are hard decisions for a 27-year-old to make.

Tomorrow, the softly spoken volunteer will return to Lalita’s home, guiding one of the relief teams that follow along behind. Briefly stopping, they will provide blankets, clothes, water bottles and a promise that more is on the way.

“It breaks your heart,” Sisi says before continuing along the road. “There is so much need; we don’t have enough for everyone.”