March 5, 2016

Post-Storm Fiji: ‘At Least I Have Free Air Conditioning’

, ADRA Australia, with Adventist Review staff

John, a teacher left homeless by a devastating storm in the South Pacific country of Fiji nearly two weeks ago, gazes at what remains of his house.

“At least I have free air conditioning now,” he said.

Talk about looking on the bright side.

The wild winds of Cyclone Winston, the worst recorded storm in Fiji’s history, destroyed his home in the village of Navesau on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu.

Not quite all of the house was destroyed, admittedly. Three of the four walls still stand, and the floor is present. But the roof blew off completely, strewn across the rest of the village and invisible among the other roofs scattered around. One wall of his house lies collapsed on the ground. It looks like a bomb went off inside.

John and his wife, Dalcie, along with their 2-year-old daughter, Gloria, are staying in the kitchen of a partially flooded dining hall near his house. The building usually serves hundreds of boarding students at Navesau Adventist High School. The students have returned home until the school can be repaired.

The dining hall is still flooded nearly two weeks after the storm. Mud is smeared all over the floor, and part of the roof has come off. Window louvers are broken, and the wind howls through.

But John’s own house, in contrast, is completely uninhabitable. Wrecked appliances lie wasted on the floor among damp clothes and spoiled books. His wife’s precious literature library is in ruins. Yet John remains remarkably upbeat.

“This is not too bad compared to those who lost family members,” he said. “All these books and tables and stuff can be replaced. Those families who lost family members — that’s beyond repair and our prayer is for them.”

Surviving the Storm

Several dozen people were killed when the storm pounded Fiji with heavy rainfall and winds of more than 200 miles an hour (320 kilometers an hour) on Feb. 20 and 21. A middle-aged Adventist believer was seriously injured when flying iron roofing struck him as he ran for cover during the storm.

Many buildings also were badly damaged or destroyed, including several Adventist schools and churches.

But buildings are nothing compared to lives, John said.

“We can buy new books tomorrow and buy new tables and fix the chair,” he said. “So I’m glad that we didn’t lose our life here in Navesau, and I thank God for that.”

John said he remembered running to the high school’s dining hall to seek shelter from the storm.

“It started at 3 p.m. and went on for four, five, six hours. We were lying on the tables because the whole place was flooded,” he said.

“It was terrible, one of a kind,” he said. “I could say I’ve never experienced something so devastating. Broken glass [flying] and the sound of rushing wind, all this corrugated iron. It was just a mixture of feelings going through [my head]. It was like in a movie, in a horror movie, [but] much more than that because I’m experiencing it first hand.”

With the danger now passed, John showed me around his house.

“I really don’t know how to describe it,” he said. “It’s upside down, if that’s a good way to describe it. It’s upside down. This used to be our home and it’s completely destroyed. When the hurricane hit, we just saved what we could — clothes on our backs, and a little bit of food here and there, and just ran off for safety. I guess the hurricane came in a little bit earlier than predicted.”

He said his biggest immediate needs are shelter and food.

ADRA Distributes Food

About 1,000 families who have received food and personal hygiene kits from ADRA. The food packs contain rice, lentils, tuna, sugar, and biscuits.

In addition, ADRA has delievered more than 600 water, sanitation, and personal hygiene kits to families to help stop the spread of disease, which can be common after a disaster. The kits contain antibacterial soap, sanitary pads, a 10-liter water container, water purification tablets, and a first-aid kit.

Another 244 households have received a water filtration system to ensure they can have clean water to drink and stop the spread of waterborne disease.

“Access to food has been identified as one of the most urgent needs, based on the assessments we’ve done,” said Iliapi Tuwai, ADRA’s country director for Fiji.

“Gardens and crops have been destroyed, which is a major food source for people particularly in rural areas,” he said. “Our food packs contain items to provide temporary relief while longer-term solutions are formalized.”

ADRA is planning further distributions of shelter, food, and personal hygiene supplies to thousands more families in the coming weeks.

John, meanwhile, is optimistic about how quickly he will be able to rebuild his home.

“If the materials are there and manpower, one, two, or three months tops,” he said. “With the amount of damage in this area, yes I believe it will take that much time.”

Living in the high school’s dining hall is proving challenging, especially amid the uncertainty about how long he and his family will have to stay.

“It’s quite difficult at the moment,” John said. “When it rains, it doesn’t feel good, [and] when it’s sunny. I guess we need a home as soon as possible. But we’ll see whatever turns up and see how God provides.”