Hundreds of Kiwis are stranded in Fiji after Cyclone Winston grounded flights and cut off communication links, while a Whangarei man has lost his uncle to the cyclone's wrath.
Northlander Rabendra Prasad and his wife, Suzy, were booked to fly out of Nausori Airport yesterday morning but both were still waiting for confirmation of their flight from Fiji Airways mid-afternoon yesterday.
The cyclone, with wind gusts of up to 325km/h and average winds of 230km/h, tore through parts of Fiji on Saturday, ripping off roofs, tearing trees and power poles out of the ground and leaving a trail of destruction. Up to 10 people are believed dead and a further seven are missing at sea.
Whangarei man Isa Nawaqa, lost an uncle after a house collapsed. The tragedy happened on Navaga Village on Koro Island, northeast of Suva, on Saturday.
Mr Nawaqa hails from that village where 52 of the 56 houses were destroyed and nearly 300 villagers were forced to cram into whatever structure was left standing.
"My uncle moved everyone to another place but he got trapped when the roof fell down. There's no mortuary on the island so people were forced to bury him on Sunday," Mr Nawaqa said.
"We never had a cyclone this bad. People shifted to a church before it lost its roof, they then moved to a community hall and that, too, lost its roof, so people sought shelter wherever they possibly could do so safely."
Mr Nawaqa said he heard news on a Fijian radio station on Saturday that someone from his village lost his life but could not ascertain his identity because he could not contact his mother, who lives in Nadi. He finally got through to her at midday on Sunday.
Notable rugby stars who hail from Koro Island are sevens wizard Waisale Serevi, former New Zealand sevens rep Tomasi Cama, and former Crusaders' flyer Marika Vunibaka.
The Fijian community in Northland is planning a fundraising drive to help cyclone victims and are seeking cash donations as money moves fast, is more easily collected, transferred, distributed and accounted for.
Mr Prasad, a truck driver from Whangarei, left for Fiji on February 11 to attend a religious ritual in Navua, a 45-minute drive northwest of the capital Suva, and was unsure when he could return to Auckland. He said vegetables and poultry, twin commodities residents in Navua rely on to make ends meet, were extensively damaged in the cyclone which also cut off power supply and disconnected piped water.
"I've seen many cyclones and hurricanes in my life but this one packing winds in excess of 300 kilometres an hour was the worst in terms of its intensity and damage it caused. Navua was thankfully not in the direct path of the cyclone but, if it had rained an hour more than it did on Saturday, this area would have been under water. Everyone here is indeed very sad," Mr Prasad said.
A curfew imposed by the Fijian Government was lifted at 5am yesterday and he was preparing to travel to the Fiji Airways' office in Suva to check on his flight. Mr Prasad was also awaiting word on the whereabouts of his brother-in-law and his two children. His family had not heard from them since the cyclone started. They live in Tavua, northwest of the main island of Viti Levu.