Koro:The Eye After Winston

  ­­ It was classified as the strongest cyclone to ever hit Fiji, and is said to be the second strongest in the world after Typhoon Haiyan that hit the
05 Mar 2016 13:21
Koro:The Eye After Winston
Damages In Koro


­­ It was classified as the strongest cyclone to ever hit Fiji, and is said to be the second strongest in the world after Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines in 2013.

Cyclone Winston brought with it destructive winds and tidal waves that swept through the villages of Koro Island.

Total ruins to shelter, livestock and months of hard work on the land were shredded to bits; all of it witnessed by its people.

Government responded quickly to the needs of these villagers.

This was made possible through the deployment of a Government team and the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) 3FIR unit and engineers.

They conducted an assessment and supplied food and relief, cleared roads and provided immediate medical attention to those injured from the disaster.

I was fortunate enough to be part of the team to experience first hand the devastating destruction that was left by this monster of a cyclone.



All the villages suffered major damage to their homes and farms. Many echoed the same sentiments and contemplated on how they would rebuild their lives again.

Many grieved as they gave me an account of how they lost their loved ones during Cyclone Winston.

The monster storm claimed eight lives on the close-knit island and two children are still missing.


Day One- February 22

12.40am- Departed Government Jetty for Nasau, Koro.


Day Two           

The team arrived at Nasau Village around 10am.

No houses were seen standing. The eerie image of skeleton trees and insurmountable debris was what was left of this once active community.

I then headed to Tutua Nasau Primary School which was being used as an evacuation centre for the village.

Everyone at the centre told me about their tragic experience and counted themselves lucky to have survived the deadly ordeal.

Even the Nasau clan leader shed tears after seeing his village for the first time after the cyclone.

Around 5pm I went up to Post Fiji for internet access where I filed my stories and images. At 6.30pm, I left the village for the MV Iloilovatu to rest and be ready for the next day.


Day three    

7.30am- Woke up and got ready for a field visit to Naqaidamu Village. There was hardly any means of transportation.

I was lucky enough to have caught a 4WD vehicle from the village that transported me to Sinuvaca, Namacu, Nakodu villages and back to Sinuvaca.

Here, I was able to speak with the family of a woman whose life was lost and a baby who went missing at the height of the cyclone.

As is the case after a storm, the heat was unbearable and to top it off there wasn’t any other means of transport to take me to Nasau.

I decided to brave the hot sun and walked. When I reached Naqaidamu village, I met the district officer of Koro who was on his way back from unloading rations at Sinuvaca Village.

Without hesitation, I jumped onto the dusty road to stop the vehicle. He did and took me right to Nasau where I was able to file all my pictures and stories.

Known as the economic hub of Koro, Nasau hosts the Government station and the only place on the island that had internet access and TFL telephone lines available.

At around 5pm I was done and again waited around for a transport to take me to Namacu, where the boat was anchored.

I was able to get on a Police vehicle at around 6.30pm. I was ferried across to the MV Iloilovatu by a fibre.


Day Four

Visited Kade Village with Government officials.


Day Five

Woke up at 6.30am, got ready and headed with the soldiers who transported the first load of rations to Nacamaki Village.


Day Six

I went to Sinuvaca Village as the Australian High Commissioner to Fiji, Margaret Twomey, and Minister for Youth and Sports, Laisenia Tuitubou were visiting.

I went back to Nasau to file stories before joining the RFMF for their evening service in their campsite.

It was a thanksgiving service, nothing short of hymns and prayers to end the day’s work.

I was then able to catch a transport to take me to the jetty in Kade around 11pm and then joined the crew and the officials in what they called a de-stress session around a bowl of kava.

One of the best memories of the trip was having a chance to interact with everyone onboard.

Hearing of their stories of the day, what they saw and how they felt about it gave meaning to my end-of-the-day reflections.

This is opposed to surfing the internet, which was what I am more accustomed to in Suva.


Day Seven

It was my final and the busiest day of my trip. The Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama visited the island. Not only did he bring rations but brought hope and solace for the people on the island.


Special mention

I accompanied the delegation during their tour from Kade to Tuatua Village.

We had a great team and great crew members. A special mention goes out to Telecom Fiji Limited. Without their assistance in providing internet and telephone access on the island, it would have been difficult for you (our readers) to know of what had transpired before, during and after Cyclone Winston.

Also a big vinaka vakalevu to the RFMF 3FIR unit onboard led by Corporal Sami.

Not forgetting MV Iloilovatu crew: chief mate, David Morell, 2nd mate, Miti, the cooks onboard (Bale and Paul) the boat engineers and especially to our captain Eroni Mataisuva for an unforgettable trip.



No words can explain the kind of experience the villagers of Koro and Vanuabalavu and areas in Ra and other parts of Fiji went through that day.

If it wasn’t of how villagers’ homes were blown away like paper, their stories of how grateful they were of surviving the ordeal even if it meant losing their homes will forever be etched in their minds.

Others gave me a vivid account of how their loved ones had slipped from their arms never to be heard of to this day. We say a prayer for them.

Many more told of their injuries that will leave a lifetime scar.

But out of the sad accounts of these incredibly life-changing experience emerged stories of bravery too.

We remember the heroes at the time where all odds were against them. Their heroic acts were praised on social media.

To experience what the Koro Islanders went through on that Saturday, I can only conclude that their stories of pain, struggles and eventually rebuilding will be told for many generations to come.


Edited by Ranoba Baoa

Feedback:  aqela.susu@fijisun.com.fj

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