As communications infrastructure is re-established in Fiji, a clearer picture of Tropical Cyclone Winston’s devastation continues to emerge. In addition to an untold number of homes and businesses that were damaged or destroyed, especially in outlying islands, the death toll, currently at 44, continues to rise.
Food and other supplies are only now beginning to reach more remote areas, where many islanders have remained in dire need since the Category 5 storm clobbered the multi-island nation last Saturday. Some cruising sailors are helping with those efforts, including Jennifer Martindale and Bruce Harbour of the Montana-based St. Francis 44 cat Skabenga. Having weathered Winston’s wrath in a mangrove lagoon near Denerau, on the island of Viti Levu, they are now "fully loaded with food, hardware and meds," and will soon head out on a relief mission, working in conjunction with the nonprofit Sea Mercy.
The organization reports, "Most of the directly impacted islands experienced a major tidal storm surge after the cyclone passed. This meant all debris, pots and pans, clothing, food, etc. was washed out to sea, which means that they have been left with nothing." The agency seeks a wide variety of relief items ranging from diapers to fishing supplies.
"Storms are nothing new to the people living on the remote islands," the nonprofit’s website notes, "however a ‘once-in-a-century’ cyclone of this magnitude has never been seen by those living there." Sustained winds reached upward of 130 mph.
In general, it seems that visiting sailors were luckier than most island residents. Many cruising boats weathered the storm with little or no damage at Vuda Point Marina on Viti Levu due to the 360-degree protection of its boat basin and, according to Manager Adam Wade, the "phenomenal efforts" of the staff. "Many of them stayed at the marina right up until the very last minute prepping the boats for your [their customers’] safety… These guys ended up risking their lives during the height of the storm, walking single file, holding each other by the shirt in horizontal rain in the pitch black and barely able to hear each other with trees falling around them to get to yachts in the water that needed assistance. Heroic does not even seem strong enough a word to describe them."
Tragically, some of those employees lost their homes to Winston. If you are among the thousands of cruisers who have stayed at Vuda Point, you might want to visit the marina’s Facebook page and learn how you can contribute to the welfare of those dedicated employees.