3 Mar 2016

Fiji commander amazed there was not greater loss of life

8:26 pm on 3 March 2016

The commander of the Fiji aid mission to the battered Lau island group in the country's east says he is amazed that the death toll is not higher from Cyclone Winston.

The category five storm tore through the Lau group early in the morning on Saturday before last, at 22 kilometres per hour.


A village on Vanua Balavu Photo: Neil Covert

Commander Humphrey Tawake said it's the first time in living memory that such a strong cyclone hit at the same time as minor earthquakes, sea surges and tidal waves.

He left the command post at Vanua Balavu island on Wednesday, saying he was shocked at the damage Cyclone Winston wreaked on the island.

"One thing that we must be thankful of is those that lost their lives, was not as much as we would have expected with the level of devastation that is here."

Commander Humphrey Tawake said the people on the most devastated islands will need months to psychologically recover and begin their lives again.

New Zealand assistance boosted

HMNZS Canterbury has arrived in Suva with 293 people, three helicopters and hundreds of tonnes of aid.

Part of the mission will be to reinforce efforts of HMNZS Wellington, which is currently in the remote eastern Lau island group.

The head of the army contingent on Vanua Balavu island, Lieutenant Leroy Judge, said they had been using the desalination machine to produce tonnes of drinking water and delivering it to some of the worst hit islands.

"And then the plan is to get the Canterbury with a lot more HADR stores, in the vicinity of this island. HADR is humanitarian aid and disaster relief stores. Just consists of pallets and pallets of tarpaulins, fresh water and food."

Lt Judge said his advance group had also been working on bringing power back to the Lomaloma hospital and school, which service the whole island of about 3,000 people.

Fiji gets more aid for Winston victims

Meanwhile more support has been pledged for Fiji after Cyclone Winston.

The US said it will give another half a million US dollars to Fiji toward the relief efforts.

This is in addition to the $US200,000 to support humanitarian co-ordination.

Last month, the US Agency for International Development provided $US100,000.

Fiji said it received $US47,000 from the government of Kiribati to help with the recovery effort.

New Caldonia's government also pledged $US140,000 to help cyclone victims.

Meanwhile one of the latest donations from within Fiji has come from the University of the South Pacific.

The USP's pro-chancellor Winston Thompson and vice-chancellor professor Rajesh Chandra handed over a cheque today for US$46,000 dollars to the Fiji prime minister's disaster relief fund.

The university's Suva campus resumed classes this week but its Lautoka campus, which sustained significant damage in the cyclone, is still shut.