Doctor Tells of The Horror in Nasau

Doctor Ravneil Singh arrived on a serene Koro Island with an abundance of supply of food and hospitality for his first posting on Wednesday, February 17 last year. Brimming with
20 Feb 2017 18:22
Doctor Tells of The Horror in Nasau
Dr Ravneil Singh with the Nasau Health Centre in the background, the home he will never get to forget for the rest of his life.Photo:Google/

Doctor Ravneil Singh arrived on a serene Koro Island with an abundance of supply of food and hospitality for his first posting on Wednesday, February 17 last year.

Brimming with confidence, he enthusiastically carried out his duties from the start for the chosen career of serving the people of Koro from the Healthe Centre in Nasau Village.

Throughout that initial 72 hours before that particular Saturday, the intense load of work right after his internship at the Colonial War Memorial hospital in Suva was checked by the beauty and laid back environment of his new home.

“The serenity of its lush green forests with a never ending scenery and supply of yaqona, the welcoming smiles of people rushing to provide me with pastry for tea and root crops to fruits became the lifesaving moments for someone who lived in the city all his life,” Dr Singh said.

Little did he know that what awaited him on February the 20th was to change his life forever.

When Tropical Cyclone Winston struck a year ago today, in hindsight he recalls his first three days on Nasau Village as his last three days in paradise.

An experience that took almost six months for him to come back to reality since the Category Five Cyclone left a trail of destruction and carnage behind.

“Deep down, our lives and thoughts seems to be trapped back on the 20th of February, 2016 even though we smile at each other, sit and chat with the people I serve at the health centre at Nasau,” he said.

Until today, he still sheds tears.

“I think it would be triggered by something I would see that is similar to those moments,” Dr Singh said.

It would be a television programme, meeting a familiar face that he encountered on that tragic day, or even a picture of a sad face when emotions would overcome him.

“All I do now is walk over, shake their hands, sit and chat for a little before going about our business again would be the unseen hand of peace we still try to find among ourselves today,” he said.

But at times, he said, the traumatic thoughts of that particular day where he encountered the unmatched wrath of nature when the thoughts just kept flowing back.

“And I don’t have any control over it,” he said.

It began with a mango tree trunk that tore through his bedroom from one end of the wall to the other.

“I had to dive out through the door of my bedroom to the lounge, where I met the nurse who had taken shelter with me at my quarters,” he said.

They moved to the second quarters.

From within those quarters, they saw the first victims crawling on their hands and knees.

“The strength of the wind ripped the clothes from their bodies covered in mud and blood,” he said.

From then, together with his nurses, they rose to the call of duty like combat soldiers crawling in the rain and sludge to avoid flying debris but to reach the helpless and assist them to safety.

Behind three adults, three naked children appeared, barely able to crawl against the force of the wind.

“My senses were numb and my mind blank,” Dr Singh said.

Hours later, after assisting people, bandaging their wounds, he realised his eye glasses was missing.

“The wind took off my eye glasses without me realising it was gone and I was working without them through the first eight hours when Winston crossed Koro Island,” he said.

Reaching the edge of Delaidokidoki, he hid behind a tree trunk and took a peek down the steep hill.

“People were pushed up the slope by the strong winds, which they could not do on a normal day for the steepness of the drop,” he said.

By the afternoon, he said the scene of the health centre was similar to that of a slaughterhouse.

“It was like standing at the bottom of a pit in hell when you’re surrounded by everyone who had an injury of some sort,” he said.

Everywhere he turned, his eyes would fasten upon open wounds and broken bodies, “the screams of children and women and the never ending sound of the wind was like staring death in the eye”.

The medicine storage room was blown away by the wind.

Together with his two nurses, they spent the rest of the evening scavenging for medicine and cotton rolls around the yard and bushes.

“Tending to the injured was the most difficult thing to do at that moment with the little supply we were able to salvage,” he said.

The health workers remained alert for the next 24 hours trying to communicate with Suva.

It was only when he was able to communicate with the mainland over 30 hours of waiting and staying awake when he was struck with tiredness he never felt in his entire life, he said.

But sleep, he said was not an issue even though his body desperately needed the rest.

“My sleeping hours were done over a time of 10 minutes. Twenty, if my senses are kind to me,” he said.

The same feeling that took over six months to solve and another six months to endure the traumatic pain that held him back as time moved on.

Dr Singh continues to serve in Koro. He is trying to overcome the memories of the events that transpired that tragic day when he was woken up to a different reality on a serene beautiful island he was welcomed to just three days before Cyclone Winston.

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