By Cheerieann Wilson of Fiji One News
February 20, 2016, will be a date every single villager on Koro Island in Fiji will never forget.
As the first outsiders to visit since tropical cyclone Winston wreaked havoc over the weekend, cameraman Jese Tuisinu and I were met with heart-wrenching stories of terror and survival.
Pictured is just one of several devastated villages on the island of Koro.
Here 163 people crawled to safety after strong winds and rain wreaked havoc.
Whatever was spared by the strong winds, only to be washed away later by the huge waves crashing on shore.
“We have been used to strong winds when a cyclone warning is issued. This time we did not take it seriously because we have never experienced this kind of weather before,” says Mosese Kikau Daulakeba of Sinuvaca village.
“We did not take it seriously. So when the weather deteriorated we began run around looking for a safe place.”
‘Swimming in the village’
Salala Nadakeke says: “We were swimming in the village. Corrugated iron flying over us while we were trying to swim to safety. We carried our children and grandchildren. The current was too strong.
“I managed to climb up a until I started to lose grip and float around. I then managed to grab a coconut tree which swung me a few times then I managed to secure myself onto the tree.
“Then I managed to grip onto a .. which kept me above water.”
While most children survived – here two lives were lost that fateful day – a 78-year-old grandmother and an infant.
“The father of the child was carrying him, first rush of high current, the second, the third current he did not realise he had lost hold of his child. He realised that his child was dying by his hand,” Daulakeba explains.
Methodist lay preacher Meli Savu Buliti has been living in the village of Sinuvaca for the last four years.
After 40 years, the church underwent renovations last year – now it’s gone.
Shelter in the church
“Many of the villagers looked for shelter in the church because they did not expect the tidal waves. They were only expecting strong winds. The elderly and the weak found temporary shelter in my home – my house at the foot of the hill which the villagers found shelter in,” says Buliti.
“At about 3pm to 4pm the tide began to rise then we began crawling uphill. We tried to safer ground in the school. we then carried the weak, the children and then they crawled up the hill because the current was too strong.”
“When strong winds began more than a hundred houses were destroyed – only one still stands. We then took shelter in a double storey but its roof had been blown off in the wind. We then took shelter at the bottom of the house,” says Amenio Timoci of Namacu village.
“At about 11 o’clock in the morning we began feel very strong winds, the tidal waves came at about 1pm. The wind destroyed all the houses in its path, those concrete houses that remained standing no longer had roofs. It was the strongest winds I’ve experienced,” Timoci says.
“When the tidal waves began to come in, the winds were already causing havoc, we then began to move before the tidal waves reached us. We moved to higher ground,” says Masilina Cabe of Nadakeke, Sinuvaca.