The following is a report from Fiji, where Cyclone Winston caused devastation on 20 – 21 February 2016, claiming the lives of 42 people. The account is written by Fr Johnny McEvoy, who served as a Curate for eight years in Mucklagh, Co. Offaly and is working as a Columban missionary in Fiji.
The Fiji Group of Islands was visited last Saturday & Sunday 20th and 21st Feb. 2016 by Tropical Cyclone Winston. It wreaked havoc throughout this little Island nation which is comprised of about 300 islands, of which a hundred of them are inhabited.
One Columban parish was badly hit, where Fr Nilton Iman is PP, assisted by Fr John Lee. The three schools in the parish have been extensively damaged. St Teresa School, Ba has lost about 4 or 5 class rooms including the IT room and its computers. The presbytery too lost most of its windows. The Parish hall was used as an evacuation centre, sheltered a number of families. Trees were uprooted all around the compound and one of them came down and crashed onto the roof of the Lay Missionary house which is also in the church compound. The children’s dormitory and a few class rooms in Navala Catholic School were blown away. The children from the dormitory are now billeted in the Church there. The new two storey classroom in Votua (built with Japanese aid recently) also lost its roof. This school building is used as an evacuation centre for the villagers of Votua – in times like this and in times of flooding, which often occurs in Votua as the Ba River often burst its banks. St Columban’s Church Votua was fairly badly damaged. Such a sad sight to see all these find buildings with just their walls remaining. The main sports stadium in the town ‘Govind Park’ also fell prey to the fury of Winston.
The experience must have been horrific and frightening for Frs. Nilton and John as it would be their first experience of a tropical cyclone. To make things worse, all communications with Ba and everywhere else in Fiji was cut. We couldn’t contact them or they us – same with so many other people living in Suva – trying to contact their relatives and friends in the islands – even as I write there are areas and people that hasn’t yet been contacted. It is so frustrating in this day and age of communications – when this happens. Of course the reason is that all electric power lines were crippled and phone masks were blown down too.
Summary: Cyclone Winston has claimed 42 lives thus far. A total of 19,294 people sought refuge in 253 evacuation centres across the Western Division. Some 8867 people were situated in 83 evacuation centres in Ra and Rakiraki.
Donations for those affected by the Cyclone will be very welcome and can be sent to St Columban’s, Dalgan Park Navan c/o Fr Pat Raleigh, Regional Director. All donations will be sent directly to the Columbans in Fiji for the attention of Fr Johnny McEvoy.
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