Aid worker Susan Slattery's first-hand account of Cyclone Winston and the massive relief effort underway in Fiji.
Tuesday February 23, 2016
Susan Slattery (right) with Fiji Red Cross colleagues Cynthia Irvine and Jobe Hargrove. Photos: Fiji Red Cross Society
This morning I was doing a radio interview on Cyclone Winston and I was trying to find another word for 'devastation'. But it's honestly the only word to describe what actually happened here in Fiji.
I was in a meeting when we saw the first signs of the cyclone. Suddenly we couldn't see the harbour just outside our window: it was covered in clouds and rain. That was the moment we knew we had to go somewhere safe, immediately.
That night was six hours of massive winds with huge gusts. Every window in our apartment was closed but the curtains were still flying violently away from the walls. It was extraordinarily loud - as if the house was in a tunnel of wind. Every now and then you'd hear a crash and think, 'Oh God, what IS that?'
The coconut trees outside our window were bending so much we were certain the tops would snap clean off - and we were on the very edge of the storm. The middle, I just cannot imagine it.
Suva is slowly coming back to life but there's a heaviness over the town. You can see people thinking about their families who are struggling and the homes they have lost.
It seems like every hour the death toll is increasing, the number of injuries is increasing.
This morning, one of my Fiji Red Cross colleagues told me that in one village near Rakiraki, there are just four houses left. In another, there are only two houses remaining and everyone in the village is trying to take shelter in these two houses.
Fiji Red Cross knows exactly how to respond to emergencies like this but they are in desperate need of funds. If you can help with a donation, please do.
Red Cross teams are headed to the outer islands, to villages hit hardest by the storm. Emergency shelter is a huge priority, as is safe drinking water and sanitation facilities.
Also, the power's still out across the country: lines are snapped, poles are broken. It's not a matter of flicking a switch, it's about rebuilding massive infrastructure.
My colleagues have been hit hard as well. Many of them have damaged homes or injured family members, but they are still out there helping.
My role is to support Fiji Red Cross respond to this cyclone. Sometimes this means liaising with Australian Red Cross to see how we can assist. Sometimes it's speaking to the media about how serious the situation is here. Occasionally it's about bringing my hardworking colleagues a much-needed cup of coffee.
Fijians have often said to me that they're one big family, and I can see that in action. Neighbours helping each other rebuild, my colleagues working in remote communities to help people.
I know that Fiji is close to Australia's heart. Let's help each other get through this.
Please make a donation to support the recovery effort today.