Priest Assoc. Fr. Nilton and JPIC Coordinator Visenia Navelinikoro write from Fiji on the devastation
Cyclones are not new in Fiji. In recent years, however, their frequency has increased and the small islands face nature’s fury causing damage to life, property and crops.
Nevertheless, the people will never forget February 20th and 21st, when the Fiji Islands took the full fury of Winston a category five cyclone. Said to be recorded as one of the strongest winds in the Southern Hemisphere, Cyclone Winston displaced 40,000 in Fiji, demolished houses, buildings, damaged crops and have left so far about 50 are dead, many are homeless and in despair. The Western division, the Lomaiviti group and the Lau group was severely hit by the cyclone, where people also experienced tidal waves in their villages. After the cyclone these severely hit places had to endure days with no power, water, cellular signals and access to essential supplies.
Fr Nilton Iman (PP) of Peru and Fr John Lee of Korea are associate priests and work in the Columban Parish of Christ the King in Ba. Winston was their first experience of a hurricane in Fiji. “Hearing in the radio about the cyclone, I did not believe that it was going to be so strong, although as I looked around, people were preparing for the cyclone,” Fr Nilton said.
He recalled the frightful experience of hearing the screaming of the strong winds and rain hitting the roof of the Parish presbytery. It became so strong that the windows of the presbytery broke and rain was poured into the house from all directions. In the raging fury of the cyclone, they made a decision to take shelter in the garage, which is below the presbytery. But this meant coming out of the house and running down the stairs into the rain. Fr Nilton said, he felt the wind would have blown him away o if he had not clutched onto the sides of the wall strongly. “I have never felt so afraid in my life, and yet so sad thinking of the people” he said.
Next day, Sunday, nobody turned up at the parish for Mass so he decided to visit the people in the communities around the town area. He felt brokenhearted seeing all the damaged houses, some houses full of water, the faces of hopelessness and silent stares that stared back at him, and people trying to gather their things together. Fallen trees were lying on the ground, sheets of corrugated iron and debris were everywhere. People were emerging to survey the destruction made by the storm.
He talked with all the people he visited and together they shared their stories and experiences of cyclone Winston. The old generation commented on how this cyclone was much stronger than hurricane Bebe in 1972.
Broken trees and electric poles prevented him from visiting the communities in the villages, as the road were closed to the public.
Now that the cyclone has left, people are left with no water or electricity for some time. This makes him unable him to get in touch with the communities in the villages.
In Votua most people lost their houses in the cyclone and the village has a stench coming from the mud puddle in the village. The villagers in Navala, Sasa and Natunuku, they took shelter in the church during the cyclone.
Some families are still living in the Parish hall at the moment.
On Monday the 22nd he went out to the communities and invited them for a Thanksgiving Mass.
Fr Nilton said, “I am not able to give anything at the moment, but I want to invite you to come and give thanks to the Lord for saving our lives from this terrible storm.