Cyclone Winston

Cyclone Winston

Fiji, February 20th, 2016

This was supposed to be a report about the third country on my Pacific island-hopping trip, as I had planned to spend a couple of days in the Solomon Island. Instead I had a bit of an unexpected adventure in Fiji.

I was woken up early by a phone call from the taxi company, to ask whether I was aware of the fact that my flight to Honiara had been cancelled. And, no, I had not been aware of that. A quick check on the Nadi airport website confirmed that my flight and many other flights had indeed been cancelled. And the reason turned out to be Cyclone Winston. I had heard about the cyclone being in the area, but up until yesterday it had been a tropical storm heading away from Fiji, and so I hadn't paid much attention to it. As it turned out, during the night the storm had made a U-turn and strengthened from a tropical storm into a major category 5 cyclone heading straight for Fiji.

I spent the next couple of hours trying to figure out a way to get off the island, since there were still some flights scheduled to leave in the morning, but they all turned out to be fully booked. So I knew I was going to be stuck in Fiji for at least the next two days. I was able to extend my room reservation for another 2 nights, and then got myself ready for a major cyclone. I spent the day in the resort, and even went for a swim in the Ocean, which was still very calm. I followed the news reports and satellite images throughout day, which showed that Cyclone Winston continued to get stronger, and was now expected to be the most powerful storm on record to ever hit Fiji.

At some stage during the day they also informed us that it would not be safe to remain in our rooms during the storm, and we were told to evacuate our rooms in the evening and to go to the ball room in the centre of the main building, which was deemed the safest place in the resort. During the afternoon major preparations started at the hotel. They threw all the patio furniture into the pool, in order to prevent it from becoming missiles in the storm, and they boarded up all but one of the entrance doors to the ball room, where we would be spending the night:

While all this was going on, there was also a wedding reception happening in the ball room. A really unfortunate day to have your dream resort wedding scheduled:

Originally we were all told to assemble in the ball room by 10:00 pm, I assume to give the wedding reception enough time. But then the winds seemed to pick up very quickly, and at 8:00 pm they sounded the alarm. Everyone had to leave their rooms immediately. And it seemed high time for that, as it was already difficult to walk along the outside walkways to get to the main building. A few pieces of the building, like small doors had already been ripped out. While we rushed into the ballroom, they were frantically clearing up the buffet and tables where the unfortunate wedding guests where still sitting at dinner. People brought their pillows and duvets, and made themselves comfortable on the floors.

It was a bit cramped, but the mood was generally quite relaxed and cheerful.The ballroom was in the centre of the main building and had no windows and the doors where all boarded up and reinforced with sandbags. So, we didn’t even hear much of the storm outside. It was a slightly uncomfortable night and I didn't really get any sleep, but we were perfectly safe. They finally let us go back to our rooms at 6:00 am in the morning.

The damage at the hotel was not particularly dramatic. All the buildings where largely intact, except for a few small doors that had been ripped out. Most of the trees had taken some major beating. Here are a couple of before and after pictures from my hotel room:

I was amazed by the efficiency of the clean up operations at the hotel. By the afternoon of the following day they had already cut down most of the broken trees and cleaned up the debris:

Torrential downpours continued pretty much throughout the entire Sunday, but by Monday morning the sun was out again, and the ocean was calm enough for me to go on a long swim, before I headed to the airport around noon. I had managed to book myself on the only flight that had available seats on Monday. It didn't quite go in the right direction for me, so I was heading for New Zealand. I ended up spending a nice evening in Auckland, and flew out the next day, which finally got me back to Hong Kong on Tuesday afternoon.

Note added:
Obviously, while I was perfectly safe and comfortable throughout the storm, this was not the case for many people across the islands, who tragically lost their homes, possessions and in some cases their lives. A total of 44 people were killed by the storm, almost 10,000 homes were destroyed, while many more buildings suffered damages, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless. If you want to help the country and the people to rebuild their lives, you can still donate. Here is the link to the donation page from the Australian Red Cross: Cyclone Winston Appeal, but there are many other charities that work with the people in Fiji.


Back to Main Menu                                        Back to Fiji page

No comments:

Post a Comment