Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston was the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall over Fiji on record. The system was first noted as a tropical disturbance on 7 February 2016, when it was located to the northwest of Port Vila, Vanuatu. Over the next few days, the system gradually developed as it moved southeast, acquiring gale-force winds by 11 February. The following day, it underwent rapid intensification and attained ten-minute maximum sustained winds of 175 km/h (110 mph). Less favorable environmental conditions prompted weakening thereafter. After turning northeast on 14 February, Winston stalled to the north of Tonga on 17 February. Due to a change in higher level steering, the storm drifted back to the west. In the process, Winston again rapidly intensified, reaching Category 5 intensity on both the Australian tropical cyclone scale and the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale on 19 February. It reached its peak intensity the next day with ten-minute sustained winds of 230 km/h (145 mph) and a pressure of 915 hPa (mbar; 27.03 inHg), shortly before making landfall on Viti Levu, Fiji.
In advance of the storm’s arrival in Fiji, numerous shelters were opened, and a nationwide curfew was instituted during the evening of 20 February. Striking Fiji as a Category 5 on 20 February, Winston inflicted extensive damage on many islands and killed 42 people. Communications were temporarily lost with at least six islands, with some remaining isolated more than two days after the storm’s passage. Total damage was estimated at FJ$1 billion (US$500 million). Immediately following the cyclone, the governments of Australia and New Zealand provided logistical support and relief packages.
The government of Fiji announced State of National Disaster on 20th of February hours before the cyclone hit ground in Fiji causing widespread damages from flood, wind forces and and torrential rain. Many people lost their loved ones, all major crops in Fiji were devastated and billions of dollars worth of damages caused to most part of Fiji.
UPDATES ON DEVOTEES
For ISKCON Fiji, many devotees are in the areas most adversely affected by the cyclone. ISKCON Fiji has 2 major temples, Sri Radha Damodar Temple and Sri Krishna Kaliya Temple in Sigatoka and Lautoka respectively however both temples did not sustain much damages compared to many devotees whose personal belonging, houses and livelihood has been greatly affected. The center in Rakiraki has also collapsed. There has been NO death to any devotees as a result of this cyclone. Devotees in Rakiraki, Tavua, Ba, Lautoka, Nadi, Labasa, Taveuni are the most affected by this cyclone. Some have lost their personal properties while others have lost their source of livelihood and income. Children are unable to go back to school, basic health and sanitation has become a problem as well as no supply of power to most areas in affected regions.
There has been massive appeals, cyclone relief aid and responses given by local and international organizations including many governments such as Australia, New Zealand, USA, China, India, French and the EU. NGO’s such as the Red Cross has been receiving most of the aid in cyclone rehab programs and relief supplies.
ISKCON Fiji collective assistance to cyclone affected areas in Fiji
Following the cyclone, there have been many groups amongst devotees that have mobilized with whatever resources that had to assist the victims of the cyclone. Cooked prasadam has been distributed widely in many areas including evacuations centers that houses masses of people which are heavily affected by the cyclone. Dr. Rupanuga Das, one of the coordinators for Food for Life program from Suva has been making appeals on the radio and in the news for people to donate graciously towards ISKCON relief work. As a result there has been a very fast and good response shown by the people in Suva who have come out in numbers with food, water, candles, ration etc leaving them at the Suva temple collection center from where most distribution is being coordinated. Dr. Rupanuga Das was also one of the very first devotees to reach out to most victims in the western areas with cooked prasadam for distribution. Under the able guidance of Rupanuga Prabhu many other devotees joined his team to distribute prasadam continuously in most affected areas in the Rakiraki – Nadi districts. Jairam Prabhu, an expert cook from Suva has been waking up as early as 2am to begin preparations for cooking thousands of plates of prasadam each day. Dr Sacimata, another devoted member of ISKCON Suva facilitated food distribution in the weekend with her entire family and devotee friends in Rakiraki. The former resident of Suva who now resides in New Zealand, Bhimsen Dasa immediately appealed on Facebook following the disaster for donations towards building homes of those devotees that have been blown away during the cyclone. Roy Prabhu who owns hire trucks gave away his tucks to be used to cart water and relief supplied to flood affected areas in Rakiraki. One devotee who works for United Nations office in Suva, Vikash Prabhu single handily raised some funds and sought groceries for immediate relief work in Rakiraki – Tavua zone. He was assisted by his friends and families to distribute prasadam and ration packs to some villages in in Rakiraki and Tavua. Similarly there were many other devotees groups such as ones with Vicaru Prabhu, Krishna Chaitanya Prabhu, Dattatreya Prabhu and many other devotees in Nausori who are involved in Cyclone relief work specially distribution of prasadam.
Currently many people are still living in the evacuation centers as they have no house or if they have moved back to their respective homes, they are very busy re gathering their lost items and still wondering how and where to start rebuilding their life from. As such the most immediate need for them is healthy, well prepared hot meals as they don’t have the basic of the basic needs for cooking. Devotees have been doing a great service however are very restricted in their service because more resources are required in disasters of this magnitude. In Sigatoka Dr. Gurusmarna Mataji, in Nadi Rasabihari Prabhu and in Lautoka Nanda Kishore Prabhu have been coordinating prasadam distribution.
Devotees distributing Prasadam aftermath Cyclone Winston