Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Cyclone Winston: The storm has passed but Fiji's suffering continues

Cyclone Winston killed dozens and devastated Fiji. Senior reporter Anna Leask and chief photographer Brett Phibbs were there. This is what they saw.

"In a split second, everything was gone."

She cries as she looks around the sodden, jumbled mess that this time last week was her home.

"Now I have nothing. I don't know what I'm going to do."

Sulva Kiran is like thousands of people in Fiji after Cyclone Winston. Their homes have been flattened, or at the very least torn apart by the wind and then soaked by the rain last Saturday.

Sanjogeeta Kiran, right,  with her sister Sulva Kiran, and her son Shivendera, 10, and 2 year-old Raajeen, in the wreckage of their home  in RakiRaki, Fiji.
Photo / Brett Phibbs.
Sanjogeeta Kiran, right, with her sister Sulva Kiran, and her son Shivendera, 10, and 2 year-old Raajeen, in the wreckage of their home in RakiRaki, Fiji. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

They are living where they can - crammed in with other families in school classrooms, churches, in tents, in abandoned buildings and even in caves.

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Some are still looking for their loved ones. The Weekend Herald knows of one man who paid a local helicopter pilot $17,000 in cash to fly to a remote island off the north of Viti Levu. He wanted to take supplies in, and if he could find them, bring his family back.

To get that money he begged his whole wider family to chip in.

The pilot said the man was one of many booking his services.

He has been flying virtually non stop since the cyclone hit, in and out of villages, on and off islands doing what he can to help.

For the rest of the world Cyclone Winston has been, hit and gone. But for the people of Fiji, the worst is yet to come.

They don't know when, if or how they will rebuild. The worst affected families have no money or means to rebuild.

A week on from Winston the the priorities in Fiji are basic - food, water, shelter.

When the Weekend Herald visited the worst hit areas in the North of Viti Levu this week, aid was yet to arrive.

Powerlines and poles down in the town of Rakiraki, Fiji.
Photo / Brett Phibbs.
Powerlines and poles down in the town of Rakiraki, Fiji. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

In Rakiraki, one family had been living on little more than coconuts they found on the ground and a handful of breakfast crackers and dry noodles their neighbours had shared.

Aid is on the way, but getting it to those who need it most will be problematic due to their remote location. The extent of the damage cannot yet be gauged as authorities simply cannot reach some places. Much of Viti Levu is without power. Phone and internet coverage is patchy at best.

It will take weeks, maybe months to ascertain how badly Winston has really hit Fiji.
Inevitably the rest of the world is moving on. Media reporting of the cyclone is dying down and people are already starting to forget.

That is the worst thing that could happen for those in the disaster zone. They fear being forgotten, being left behind.

"Please help us, we need everything," said one man from his temporary home - a classroom just north of Lautoka which he is sharing with about 20 other people.
At a squatter settlement across the road, an informal village not recognised by the government so not eligible for any official help, an elderly woman pleads.

"If anyone can help us... we need to build our house, we have nothing to eat," she tells the Weekend Herald with her neighbour as translator. She speaks no English but is desperate to tell her story.

She is wheelchair-bound and the sole carer for her two young grandsons. Their only food is a week-old loaf of bread and the children are collecting rain water in filthy containers.

She can do nothing but sit and wait for help but does not know when or if it will come.

Further north just out of Tavua a house has been stripped of everything but three walls. Winston was at its most brutal in this part of Viti Levu.

Pastor Bili Nakauta is picking through the rubble of his home, where he hid with his family when the cyclone hit. "I can't explain it, it was so strong. It sounded like a big jet plane coming," he said.

Bili has lived in this house all of his life. Now, he is living in a van with his wife and son. His father lives across the field, his brother behind him and his cousin across the road. All of their houses were destroyed.

"It is very sad, but I am ok. My cousin is trying to build a small shed out of his wreckage to live in," he said.

"We don't have anything now, we cannot do much. We don't know what our government is going to do."

The further north you go, the worse the damage is. Winston smashed its way through Rakiraki, at the top of Viti Levu and the tiny villages on the outskirts are all but gone. The people remain though - they have nowhere else to go.

"This is the worst cyclone we have ever seen," says Ronald Dass, reduced to tears as he looks around his decimated street.

"I saw everything blow away with my own eyes. It is going to take us at least $25,000 to repair our home and to upgrade. Everything was destroyed, we have to start again.

"We have gone back 25 years because of this cyclone. It's bad, I don't know how people are going to live now."

Dass' neighbour Bhim Pratap desperately tried to secure his roof as the wind picked up.
"A nail went into my head, a piece of timber flew and hit me in the face while I was trying to fix my roof in the night and I got hurt," he said.

"I have lived here since birth. I am 65 years old and this is the worst thing that has happened in my life.

"People here don't have food or water... I don't know how we are going to rebuild."

Despite the damage, Rakiraki is busy. The sound of hammers hitting nails and chainsaws cutting whatever trees are still standing fill the air.

It's not the sound of rebuilding, it's the sound of people frantically trying to make shelters for their family before the next rain comes. You can see the blue of tarpaulins dotting the landscape, temporary roofs that will likely be in place for months rather than weeks.

"Before the cyclone me and my husband both went to work. Now I won't be able to go to work, I will have to stay home and reset everything," says one woman from her crumbling house just out of Rakiraki. When Winston came she and her family ran up the hill to take shelter at the neighbours.

"We watched our home blow away from there. We were helpless," she said.
"It is so hard for us to rebuild."

The woman is exhausted and says she has been throwing up morning and night. She cannot sleep and the work she has to do at her home is endless.

"It is so hard to clean... the flood water, the mess... I'm so tired... f**k I am tired," she says, breaking down.

In Tukuraki Village near Ba, locals were still recovering from a landslide in 2012.
Winston swept away whatever the landslide left. In Tukuraki some of the villagers have resorted to living in caves for shelter.

Photographs show four families sitting together in a cave on sacks and blankets. They have little more than a few bowls and pots to cook with, and a handful of clothing stores in plastic bags, no doubt to keep them dry if the rain comes.

READ MORE: Once classrooms, now havens
READ, WATCH MORE: Life goes on, but it's a struggle
READ, WATCH MORE: After the storm, facing the damage

Tukuraki was one two villages due to be relocated by the government because of its vulnerability to natural disasters. In the 2012 landslide a whole family was killed and the government was proposing to move the entire village to another site to prevent further devastation.

Villagers from Tukuraki Village near Ba in Fiji have resorted to living in caves in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston.
Photo / Supplied by Rise Beyond the Reef.
Villagers from Tukuraki Village near Ba in Fiji have resorted to living in caves in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston. Photo / Supplied by Rise Beyond the Reef.

In the last two days the aid effort has really ramped up in Fiji. A French military aircraft arrived yesterday with personnel and supplies and the Royal New Zealand Navy vessel HMNZS Wellington left the Devonport base fully stocked with supplies and bound for the stricken islands. On Sunday HMNZS Canterbury will follow with vehicles and four helicopters on board. Other countries are also sending personnel and resources and communities around the world are collecting basic food and supplies to ship to the struggling islands.

Around the island aid organisations including Red Cross, Tear Fund and their local partners, Oxfam, Unicef and Habitat for Humanity are on foot giving what help they can and many tourists have chipped in with the clean up.

Aid cannot come soon enough for the people of the disaster zone. Pastor Mike Naisau from the C3 Church who works in the squatter settlements near Lautoka, said the next week was crucial.

Video

With stagnant flood water comes mosquitoes, and with them - disease. Dirty water brings its own sickness and the lack of food will be fatal in some cases.

Fire trucks were bringing tanks of water but it was not clean and most people had to drink it regardless. It was their only option.

"This is the worst cyclone we have ever seen. Here we have the poorest and most vulnerable people... they were poor before the cyclone, and now they really have nothing," he said.

"These people cannot afford to buy anything... they don't have a chance.
"But this is not only the worst thing for these people, it is a cyclone that's really hit the nation. Everyone has been affected. Everyone here needs help right now.
"It will be a very long recovery."

FOLLOW: Brett Phibbs on Instagram
FOLLOW: Anna Leask on Twitter

• 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
*Salvation Army www.salvationarmy.org.nz

For more information:
*NGO Disaster Relief Forum www.ndrf.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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