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Living in fear

Marica Kepa had never seen people react to rain like this.

People had panic in their eyes as drops spattered off the roof of the community hall in Koro Island. Children ran to their parents, asking "Is the wind coming back? Is the sea coming back?"

It was then she understood the true impact of Cyclone Winston. "Ten months later, and people still felt like it happened yesterday," she said.

Marica and her Red Cross team have been visiting cyclone-ravaged communities, inviting people to talk about what happened and work together to overcome trauma.

"Our people are normally up and about after disasters, cleaning up. But this time I could see people in each village just sitting there, numb," she reports.

Red Cross reached out to these people. "You go and sit with them. Ask how they are. Ask their permission to talk about the cyclone and what happened.

"And you know, they were just ready to talk. They couldn't wait."

Koro Island was one of the hardest-hit areas, with not a single home left unscathed. When Marica arrived, people were still living in tents while shelter teams worked to rebuild houses.

"In every village, we divided people into groups and talked about coping skills, the emotional impact of disasters and supporting children. People said everyone rushed in after the cyclone but most agencies left in the first three months. They kept thanking us for coming back." Fiji Red Cross will continue to go to Koro Island and other affected communities, to ensure people's emotional recovery keeps pace with physical rebuilding.

"We could see a change in each village when we went back," Marica says. "People who had been just sitting quietly were now talking, working, even laughing again. Just having someone to talk to helped."