For those in Fiji, it will be a tragic event used as a benchmark in their lives. Where were you when the Category 5, Tropical Cyclone Winston hit on February 20-21, 2016? Me? I was at home in my sturdy apartment, fitted with a generator and large water tank, staying clear of the many windows, feeling privileged, feeling guilty, feeling thankful.
We’d been tracking Cyclone Winston for weeks as he made his destructive meanderings around the Pacific. After striking Tonga, he decided he wasn’t finished and made a U-turn to hit the same area for the second time. Winston then turned his sights on Fiji, intensifying his efforts to a Category 5 Cyclone, making landfall along the north coast of Fiji’s largest and most populated island. TC Winston became the strongest tropical cyclone of record in the Southern Hemisphere by maximum sustained winds of 285 km/hr, at peak intensity on 20th February 2016 (Wikipedia).
I had been rather complacent up until the reports of evacuation and curfews were issued. Thankfully, my emergency preparedness- self had reacted automatically with stocking up of essentials, checking flashlights, packing our passports and personal documents in our evacuation bags laid ready at the door. (…but do I have enough eggs?!)
The whole of Fiji was put on alert with a nationwide curfew enforced at 4pm on February 20th. Many had evacuated to shelters at the Fiji Government’s urging, with food and water stored to weather out the storm. The warnings were taken seriously as evacuation centers filled up and the streets and venues were closed up and deserted. Then we waited and listened to the rising winds, thinking of those in less sturdy homes, hoping they had shelter, hoping that Winston would change his mind for the better and leave Fiji in peace.
That was not Winston’s intention as he cut through Fiji’s two largest islands and everything in his way. Left in the wake are 42 confirmed deaths, 56,000 people still sheltered in evacuation centers, and a total damage estimated at more than FJ$1billion (UNOCHA).
Koro Island, Fiji/ photo Fiji Government
Taveuni Island, Fiji/ photo Fiji Government
The immediate action taken in response to the disaster has been amazing. Under the coordination and leadership of the the Fiji Government, Australia, New Zealand, UN, EU, International Organizations and corporate businesses are tackling the large scale emergency response. Local businesses and individuals have been joining together to immediately help their community, Fiji- wide. From individuals topping up airtime for friends and family in affected areas (such an easy and helpful idea from my friend who had first-hand experience after living through the tsunami in Samoa), and collecting donations for individuals affected, to loading vehicles and boats up with food and basic necessities to delivery to those most in need once the roads were reopened.
Each person I meet and speak to has been affected and is doing something on a personal or professional level to support the efforts to get Fiji back on it’s feet. Within the expat community, there’s not much talk of anything else but how privileged and lucky we are to have shelter, water and electricty, and the ability to help those in need. There is a long road ahead with immediate major concerns still be to addressed on food security and access to fresh water, some affected areas still cut off from communication, damaged and destroyed hospitals and schools and so many without homes.
We must keep up the good work that has been started! Many have asked how they can get involved and help Fiji. Here are three organizations that I feel will do due diligence with your donations and help Fiji in their time of need.
1. UNICEF NZ: Fijian Children’s Cyclone Relief Fund
2. Medical Services Pacific: Fiji Cyclone Relief Appeal
3. Fiji Red Cross Society: Fiji Cyclone Relief Fund
Also, a very timely and important message was relayed by the Australian Red Cross in regards to donations in times of emergency: Fiji doesn’t need the shirt off your back
#strongerthanwinston #TCWinston #CycloneWinston #TogetherForFiji