Pulling together after tropical cyclone Winston in Fiji

Eva Kata sits in what’s left of her house in Kese village, Yasawa islands, Fiji

Tropical cyclone Winston caused widespread damage when it hit Fiji on 20 February. The category five cyclone is one of the most powerful ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere with wind gusts over 300 kilometres per hour.

A boy in Kese village, Fiji
A boy from Kese village, Yasawa islands, in front of a destroyed house
A man stands in debris following cyclone Winston
Josefeki Tuidrola inside his flattened house, Kese village, Yasawa islands
A man surveys storm damage in Fiji
Farmer Semi surveys damage from the cyclone in Soso village, Yasawa islands

Sophy Buinimasi works for the local council in Ba province and is helping CARE and our partner Live & Learn to liaise with communities in the traditional villages inland of Nadi. She says:

“That night, when Cyclone Winston hit, I didn’t even know my house got damaged. I was on top of a hill half an hour from home checking on a local evacuation centre [the local primary school].

We got stuck there when the cyclone hit and we had to take shelter.

“I came home from work the next morning and there was a huge branch in my kitchen. It had blown in there through the hole in my roof.

“I had to pick up my roofing iron [corrugated iron roofing] from across the road.

Sophy Buinimasi in her home in Fiji
Sophy in her kitchen, the roof of which was damaged by the cyclone

“In my job we have to look after people first, before we look after our own house. But it’s ok. Some people don’t have houses or anything.

“People have also started mobilising themselves and started cleaning up. There is just so much sadness, but people still try to put a happy face on. Fijians will be smiling in front of a destroyed house or a dead relative’s grave.

Even if they have nothing and we arrive they will still try to look after us and feed us. It is part of our culture in Fiji.

“It was amazing to hear about all the people sheltering together in the evacuation centre, children, mothers, ministers. It’s great to know that when something bad happens we all pull together.”

A farmer and his sons in a damaged banana field
Farmer Saimoni Ramatau and sons pictured at a banana farm damaged by the cyclone, Kese village, Yasawa islands

Saimoni Ramatau, 54, is a farmer in Kese village, Naiviti island, Yasawa islands, Fiji. He says:

“There were seven of us in our house when the cyclone came. It was a newly built house, we had just moved in three months before the cyclone. When it came, it took the roof and then two sides of the house. Our clothes and things were gone, everything was wet and muddy.

“When it took the walls we moved together in the dark. We left everything and held hands and moved together, trying not to get hit by flying branches and corrugated roof iron.

I told my family life is more important than things, so they left everything and now we have only the clothes on our backs.

“We moved to my uncle’s house but that house roof also blew away. We were really afraid to move again, because of the flying branches, so we went to the house next door and lifted up five floor planks and we all hid under the floor until the next morning.

We were wet, and it was dark and the children were scared and crying.

“This is the most dangerous hurricane [cyclone] we’ve ever come across.

“The greatest need now is good shelter, and we have to replant our food crops, cassava, banana, yams, they were all destroyed. There is a lot of work to be done. We need seeds, planting materials,, and to fix our irrigation. I think it will take one year to grow back all our crops from seeds.”

What CARE is doing

CARE is working with our partner organisation Live & Learn in Fiji’s Western Division to assess water sources, sanitation and crop damage in some of the worst affected areas. CARE and Live & Learn will help some of the most vulnerable families with a focus on ensuring the rehabilitation of water supplies and promoting hygiene to ensure communities know how to keep themselves safe and healthy in the aftermath of the cyclone.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.