Sisters tell Anna Leask in Fiji of their terror as cyclone’s winds smashed the house in which they sheltered.

He is only 2 years old but Raajeev Kumar knew he was in trouble.

"Please save me," the toddler screamed over and over again, as Cyclone Winston tore his home down around him.

He was huddled under the floorboards with his mother, Sulva Kiran, and brother, Shivendera Kumar. Sulva's sister Sanjogeeta Kiran was also there, having escaped her own crumbling home about 100m away minutes earlier with their elderly mother.

 The roof lifted and blew away, slamming into the side of the neighbour's house 100m away. Then the walls came down, folding outwards and crashing to the ground. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The roof lifted and blew away, slamming into the side of the neighbour's house 100m away. Then the walls came down, folding outwards and crashing to the ground. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Several other young family members were with them.

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Crammed into a space less than a metre high, they held on to one another and cried for help.

The roof lifted and blew away, slamming into the side of the neighbour's house 100m away.

Then the walls came down, folding outwards and crashing to the ground. Winston picked up everything Sulva and her children owned and threw it back down as the rain poured in.

The family started to pray. The mothers bargained with God " take us, spare the children.

Finally, help came. A neighbour had seen them cowering under the crumbling house and ran to help them to safety.

Yesterday they shared their harrowing ordeal with the Herald.

Sulva and Sanjogeeta both lost their homes and everything but the clothes they were wearing to Winston. The women live in Rakiraki, one of the worst hit areas on Viti Levu.

On Saturday they they had been to the supermarket together and stocked up on food. Sanjogeeta lives with the women's mother and just three years ago Sulva moved from their house to her own after scrimping and saving to build her own home.

As Winston arrived, Sanjogeeta decided to leave her home and bundled her 69-year-old mother down the steep hill to Sulva's.

"I knew my house was too weak, that it would not stand. So I went to my sister's," Sanjogeeta said. "When I got there I said to my sister we need to take shelter in the kitchen. She has a bench sink so we were able to get underneath that."

As they cowered the roof and walls began to shake. The fridge fell and Sanjogeeta managed to stop it just before it hit one of the children. As the kitchen wall was ripped away she knew what they had to do.

Sanjogeeta Kiran comforts her mother in the ruins of their home. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Sanjogeeta Kiran comforts her mother in the ruins of their home. Photo / Brett Phibbs

"We all jumped down from the floor [on to the grass outside] and climbed under the house," she said.

"We could see parts of the roof, the walls flying to the neighbour's home. It was like bits of paper flying. One moment we were sitting there, the next minute everything was gone."

After the wind and rain died down, the women returned to Sulva's house to find everything was sodden or smashed and the food they had bought hours earlier was strewn all over the floor, ruined.

"It is hard being here," Sulva said yesterday, tears in her eyes.

"It took me so many years to have my home and now it is gone. I have lost everything but at least I have my children. I knew at the time [the cyclone hit] that nothing material mattered. I just had to make sure my children survived, even if it killed me."

Sulva and the boys are now living at the local school, which is being used as housing for those who lost their homes or cannot return because of damage.

 The roof lifted and blew away, slamming into the side of the neighbour's house 100m away. Then the walls came down, folding outwards and crashing to the ground. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The roof lifted and blew away, slamming into the side of the neighbour's house 100m away. Then the walls came down, folding outwards and crashing to the ground. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Sanjogeeta is back living with her mother.

Just two walls of her house are still standing and she has erected a tarp over what's left of the front room. There, she and her mother sleep, eat, cook and keep guard.

"We spent two days at the school but we came home and half of our things were gone. Thieves have taken our things," she said.

"We are now staying here to protect what we have left."

Sanjogeeta said her heart broke when she saw her home for the first time after the cyclone.

"I knew my house was weaker than my sister's but when I saw my home my heart was crushed. It was so bad. I used to have everything in my home, now I have nothing."

Sanjogeeta is still wearing the clothes she had on during the cyclone. She has washed and dried them several times but has nothing else to change into.

Aid is yet to arrive in Rakiraki and the women are relying on the kindness of neighbours to get by.

"People bring us food and we cook it here under the tarp and then take it to the school to feed the children," Sanjogeeta said. "It is so hard. But at least we are safe."

"That is the greatest thing," Sulva added. "No one got hurt or killed. At least we are still together and we saved each other."

Like most people in Rakiraki, the women are struggling to find food and water. Sanjogeeta told the Herald that over the past 24 hours, all she had eaten was some coconut that she found on the ground.

"We have been given breakfast crackers and dry noodles and some water but we really have nothing."

And for the children, the worst time is at night.

"They are still so frightened," Sulva said. "They cry and they cannot sleep. They are afraid of every gust of wind, that the hurricane is back."

How to donate

• Red Cross: redcross.org.nz
• Tear Fund: tearfund.org.nz
• World Vision: worldvision.org.nz
• Unicef: unicef.org.nz
• Oxfam: oxfam.org.nz
• Habitat for Humanity: www.habitat.org.nz