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March 4th 2016
Published: March 20th 2016
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First week back on Caqalai finished this morning, waking up at 5am to say goodbye to the volunteers, who were leaving this month. Everyone gets to know each other very quickly and before you know it people are leaving to head off to other projects, travelling or just going back home. It made me think how fast this month has gone and how over the last two weeks we have been in limbo stage after the strongest tropical cyclone (Winston) ever to hit the Southern Hemisphere.

When Winston hit we were already in Suva (the capital of Fiji), we moved to a hostel to meet up with the rest of the group and tried to figure out what was happening, what state Fiji was in and how we could help. We were able to ask The Red Cross, whether we could help. They gave us training in disaster relief management and said they would call if they needed any help. Fortunately there have been so many agencies and Fijians wanting to help with the aid effort that they didn’t really need us, or so we were told. It was difficult as during this time, Suva was a bit of a bubble, since very little damage happened in Suva few people realised the extent of the damage. It was only from seeing it online or through Fijian TV that some of the damage was known.

Since we have been back on Caqalai however we have been able to help rebuild the island as well as support villages with their efforts. It has only really been then that we have seen and heard about the seriousness of the situation. On Caqalai bures (Fijian houses) are completely destroyed with one member of the community having been asleep in his bure when a tree fell down on top of his bure, destroying the roof and causing a wooden stake to drive straight through his bed. Had he been sleeping a few millimetres to his left he would have died. Luckily he managed to escape through his window and get out. In a neighbouring village in order for two families to try to keep their children alive when their house fell down, they put their children into a wardrobe and the 4 parents formed a circle and held on to each other to protect their children as the cyclone was upon them. I can’t even imagine what they must have been feeling, let alone their children.

In the neighbouring district of Moturiki a village we helped out at, Nubisanga, had 12 houses flattened- pretty much a third of their houses in a village of 60 people. It is soul-destroying having to dismantle kitchens, roofs and parts of people’s houses, however their upbeat positivism keeps them going. Amazingly this village regard themselves as unscathed when they compare themselves to their neighbouring village which has no houses standing and the school decimated, not only due to the extreme high winds but also due to the tidal surge that comes as part of a cyclone. Considering this has been the most extreme cyclone that the Southern Hemisphere has ever had, it is shameful that the Northern hemisphere media felt that the Oscars were more important to report on that this.

Today we managed a dive to one of the local house reefs just off Caqalai- many of the corals are bleached, which means they are dead. One group managed to get out to a research site further afield and noticed that 20m down the cabbage coral fields are completely destroyed. I never realised that a cyclone would be able to destroy that much at such a depth, but it shows how powerful the tidal surges must have been to affect that much.

With much of the clean-up of our island done, we are able to start some of the project back up again in the coming weeks as well as support the villages in Moturiki with their re-build. We will also be looking at how we can improve things on our island, in order to make us more sustainable within our practises.


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