Parliament Hero Pulls Off Another Feat

Five parliamentary staff testified to the power of prayer,  quick thinking and the action of one of their colleagues, as they reminisced the harrowing experience they went through in Taveuni
13 Mar 2016 08:57
Parliament Hero Pulls Off Another Feat

Five parliamentary staff testified to the power of prayer,  quick thinking and the action of one of their colleagues, as they reminisced the harrowing experience they went through in Taveuni during the height of Tropical Cyclone Winston.

Parliament Chamber attendant Penijamini Valebuli’s actions, they say, saved them, together with other hotel occupants who escaped in the wake of the destruction left behind by the Category Five winds that fateful Saturday morning.

Members of the Civic Education and Media Unit of Parliament were conducting the ‘Parliament Bus’ outreach programme in Taveuni the same week the cyclone struck Fiji.

The team which consisted of Vatimosi Delailovu (manager civic education & media), Masilina Raumakita (senior civic education officer), Iliesa Raiduduva (civic education officer), Mitieli Uculoa (IT officer) and Penijamini Valebuli (Parliament House orderly).

The team recalled moments of fear, personal reflections with God, distraught and finally contentment when they were saved by Mr Valebuli.

The staff were billeted in individual rooms on the second storey of the First Light Inn Hotel in Waiyevo.

During the onslaught of damaging winds on the morning of February 20, the five found themselves unceremoniously covered in rubble from the walls that had crumbled upon them and which they could only slightly peak from, to see debris flying in the skies as their roofs were blown away.

There wasn’t time to run out of their rooms and even if they had attempted to, both stairways were blocked by tables, chairs and all kinds of debris. There was certainly no escape available at that point in time.

Like a hero out of nowhere, Mr Valebuli struggled out of the rubble in his room, and ran downstairs before the stairways were completely blocked. In the midst of flying objects outside he found a ladder and held onto it with all the strength he had, while the majority of the hotel occupants were safely transferred to the first floor.

“At that moment, I knew I could move around a bit and tried to assist people including our team as the hotel’s rooftop had blown off. That was something that could have caused loss of lives,” Mr Valebuli said.

Mr Valebuli then used a long piece of wood to knock on the ceiling of the first floor in the hope that those who were still stuck in the second floor would respond, giving him an indication of who was still there and if they needed assistance.

Mr Delailovu who was stuck in the rubble of the second floor and heard the sound from the floor and quickly got out of the rubble and yelled for help.

By then, Mr Valebuli had again risked his life by running out to an open space to signal to him where the ladder was, guiding him there.

“I heard the knocking on the floor, and at first I thought the floor was going to crumble, but when it continued in a similar pattern, I knew someone was trying to contact me from the first floor,” Mr Delaivonu said.

“I quickly came out and escaped by climbing down the ladder Mr Valebuli was holding.”

Later on Mr Valebuli with a few of his colleagues braved the strong winds and debris to look for another team member, Mitieli Uculoa who was still in his room covered in the rubble.

“I had tried to run out but flying debris and the collapsed walls stopped me from moving elsewhere,” the Naitasisi native Mr Uculoa said.

“So for more than an hour, I was stuck in a small corner of my room with all the rubble, praying; and I praise God that I’m still alive and that experience will be with me for a long time,” Mr Uculoa said.

Those rescued by Mr Valebuli were very thankful for his quick action and thinking and appreciated his wit and bravery.

These included two education officers from the Ministry of Education and two businessmen from Labasa who were billeted in the same hotel.

This heroic act of bravery is nothing new to Mr Valebuli.

He is the same combatant who protected the ‘mace’ of Parliament from the hands of those who entered the old Parliament in Veiuto during the political upheaval in 2000.

For this act, he was awarded a medal of bravery in 2002 by the late President, Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivuda.

Mr Valebuli hails from Nadrala in Baravi, Nadroga, and has been working in Parliament since 1994.


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