The first survey flights are done, and although there has been welcome evidence that many communities in Fiji have survived intact, the number of towns and villages that have been obliterated is distressingly large.
While we can take comfort that Suva, Nadi and other international ports of call are more of less intact, the numerous smaller islands in Winston’s path, along with the lower part of Vanua Levu, have clearly been devastated.
On Viti Levu, Lautoka, Ba and Tavua all sustained significant damage, and the evidence from elsewhere is that numerous shoreside communities have simply been wiped away by the combination of record-strength winds and a massive storm surge.
None of us who experienced the power of cyclone Pam’s winds can remain unmoved by the photographic and video evidence emerging from the overflights of Fiji’s affected areas. The images are depressingly familiar. The blasted landscape, the corrugated metal roofing dotting the countryside like confetti, ships run aground and ashore, whole hillsides collapsed. Entire villages have been left without a single domicile standing.
This cyclone is the strongest storm ever to strike the Fiji islands. Clearly, Winston’s relief and reconstruction effort will be similar in scale to Fiji’s economy as Pam’s has proven to ours.
For the moment, all we can do is stand in solidarity with our Fijian brothers and sisters, and offer them our understanding, our empathy, and what little practical support we can muster. Likewise for the many Ni Vanuatu living, working and studying there. Trust, though, that everything we can do, we will do.
Vanuatu is a small country, with limited international reach, and it’s been hamstrung of late by a series of natural and man-made disasters. But that’s not to say we won’t do everything in our power to help.
Stand firm, Fiji.
If nothing else, maybe we can help you to remember to smile your way through adversity, and to work together. iTaukei, Indo-Fijian; Polynesian, Melanesian; Christian, Hindu, Muslim: We all face the same challenges. If a disaster such as Winston teaches nothing else, it helps us remember we are all human, all frail, all prone to suffering, each as much as the next.
And together, only together, is how we survive.