Richard Moore: Sad tokens of cyclone's power

By Richard Moore

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Cyclone Winston destroyed the Yasawas High School in Muaira on Naviti Island. While the winds ripped the roof and walls away, desks and seats remained standing. Photo / Richard Moore
Cyclone Winston destroyed the Yasawas High School in Muaira on Naviti Island. While the winds ripped the roof and walls away, desks and seats remained standing. Photo / Richard Moore

Descending into the city of Nadi there were few signs of cyclone damage on the flight path.

The countryside looked peaceful, buildings intact and we could see no uprooted trees on the ground.

A local woman in the plane seat next to me explained the scene as Nadi being lucky ... this time.

Usually the city bears the brunt of fierce storms hitting Fiji and the associated damage and flooding and anguish that they bring.

On the car trip to my hotel in Denarau we passed through increasing signs of Cyclone Winston's path.

Read more: Cyclone won't stop dorm build

It began with a few damaged and wrecked, billboards, and then fences and rugby posts on un-gameday angles.

A team of linemen worked high above the road trying to restore power to an area, while interested locals sat and watched them work.

Traffic was its chaotic best, but elsewhere cleanup teams chainsawed large trees into smaller pieces for removal.

At the Sofitel in Denarau business was going on as usual.

Palm trees had been decapitated, with their crowns separated from their slender trunks. Larger trees had been left with jagged, broken limbs, evidence of a branch's violent end.
Richard Moore

There were a few noticeable changes from the last time I was here. One of which was the large carpet in the hotel foyer was absolutely sodden and gave off that unpleasant wet-rug smell.

And I had been told the restaurant was not working, a fact, I was pleased to discover, was incorrect.

But the staff were friendly and efficient, no change there.

My room was impeccable and it welcomed me with a blast of air-conditioning that took the edge off the muggy, low-30s climate outside.

Something else had not changed, my inability to work the television system through a remote that not only had too few control buttons but, once I could figure it out, I could find little of interest to view.

Even the Fiji TV news was, how can I put this, a time warp back to the dry, graphic-less bulletins of the 1970s.

Darkness was falling and so I thought I'd head over to the restaurant area where I had a choice of two eateries.

Avoiding stepping on a large number of mid-sized frogs that happily escorted me, I opted for the one near the beach and sat down at a bench overlooking the water.

Here I could see signs of Winston's visit.

Palm trees had been decapitated, with their crowns separated from their slender trunks. Larger trees had been left with jagged, broken limbs, evidence of a branch's violent end. Larger trees, around 45cm in diameter, had fallen and their sawn-up remains were stacked neatly for collection. At home it would be used as firewood in winter, I am not so sure of its uses in a tropical, winter-less island.

It was an early start on the Yasawas Flyer ferry up to the beautiful islands to the north-west of the main Fijian islands.

Initially it was thought they had escaped Winston's fury, but I have seen some of the nearby damage and it is extensive. The village of Muaira has lost Yasawas High School and several other buildings but, thankfully, there are no reports of casualties.

There are reports of massive building losses in the area's remote villages and we will be heading out during the next few days to report and document the situation.

It isn't looking good though.

Communications are almost non-existent with the Yasawas, my mobile phone is useless except as an alarm clock, and people on the mainland can only get information through the crews of South Sea Cruises and Blue Lagoon Cruises vessels.

I have been loaned a satellite phone, courtesy of Wright Satellite Connections in Auckland, that will allow me to reach outside the Yasawas.

But, at about $3-plus a minute (the charges for satellite time), it needs to be used sparingly.

It is strange, yet familiar, as I step back in time when trying to get photos and stories sent to the outside world.

Each day I have to transfer everything on to a USB stick, put it in a plastic bag and then hand it over from a tender boat to the ferry's crew so it can be picked up at Denarau and transmitted out.

Just like my early cadet days in the late 1970s.

The work documenting the cyclone's damage is important and, once again, it's time to dig into our pockets and be generous to good people who are in real trouble.

You can donate though the Awesome Adventures website at www.awesomefiji.com.

Richard Moore was flown to Fiji courtesy of Air Fiji and is in the Yasawa Islands to work with Awesome Adventures Fiji and Vinaka Fiji.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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