Prepared? Yes, but devastation of Winston was overwhelming

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Fiji today ... restoring essential services. Image: Fiji govt

As aid has started to flow to parts of Fiji left devastated by severe tropical cyclone Winston, the Fiji Times chief editor says that this country once used to coping with fierce storms has been left vulnerable.

In his reflective series of editorials, Fred Wesley wrote that it was encouraging to see the international community rallying in support but “the real cost to our nation” was not yet known.

Fijians had been “prepared” for the cyclone but the sheer scale of the disaster was “overwhelming”.

“Thousands [of Fijians] had made a beeline for stores to stock up on food and water, and batteries for torches and radio sets. They fixed their homes,” Wesley wrote.

“Some had been proactive and converged on evacuation centres to sit out the cyclone.

“But clearly no one was prepared for the raw power and strength of Winston. The devastation caused by this massive system was overwhelming.”

The editorial, headlined “International support” said:

-Partners-

International support
FIVE days after the most destructive cyclone to hit land in the southern hemisphere struck us, rehabilitation assistance is slowly getting to affected people around the country.

For some, there is relief as the state assistance machinery reaches them. For some others, it is probably not fast enough as food and water supplies start to dwindle.

The process of prioritising areas to target first has been made difficult by the fact that quite a large number of people and areas were badly affected by Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston on Saturday. Add to that the rising death toll and injury list. There can be no doubts about the fact that people were prepared for a cyclone.

Thousands had made a beeline for stores to stock up on food and water, and batteries for torches and radio sets. They fixed their homes. Some had been proactive and converged on evacuation centres to sit out the cyclone.

But clearly no one was prepared for the raw power and strength of Winston. The devastation caused by this massive system was overwhelming. No one was prepared for Winston’s average winds of up to 220km an hour and momentary gusts of up to 315km an hour close to its centre.

That was terrifying strength that turned Winston into a fully-fledged Category 5 mega-storm.

As it swept over Lau, and took a path straight through Lomaiviti, many Fijians battened down for the night, anticipating “just another” cyclone.

Because we are a country prone to such natural disasters, perhaps that has ingrained in us a sense of acceptance of our fate, and of cyclones in general.

That has now changed in the wake of Winston.

As the eye moved over Lomaiviti, the entire country for a moment was enveloped by this massive system that brought with it rain, very strong winds, flash floods and giant waves.

Winston left behind a nation that is now vulnerable. Fijians may be resilient. However, the devastation left behind by Winston is shocking and the recovery process will run into millions of dollars.

The real cost to our nation is yet to be known.

We may even guess the length of our recovery period.

As much as we may insist on being strong to get back on our feet, in such times, the assistance of our friends will be welcomed.

It is encouraging to see the international community rallying in support, to back the recovery process.

They are aiding state efforts by providing supplies, manpower and humanitarian assistance.
Because the cyclone left many Fijians without adequate food, water or shelter and cut-off from essential medical services, there will be some urgency to provide these.

The Indian Government, Australia, the US, the People’s Republic of China, France, New Zealand, Japan, French Polynesia, Tonga, Nauru, and the Asian Development Bank have made pledges in support of the State efforts.

In this, our time of great need, it is good to know that the international community is prepared to come to our assistance. This great show of support and concern is appreciated and will aid in our recovery process.

The onus now is on the powers that be to put in place measures to get needed assistance immediately to every affected Fijian around the country.

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