February 21, 2016: The most powerful storm on record in the Southern Hemisphere hit Fiji yesterday, as reported by CNN, the Australian Broadcasting Company and other news media. The Adventist denomination had prepared for the storm by canceling worship services on Sabbath and urging members to stay home and prepare for the arrival of Cyclone Winston, according to the Facebook page of the Fiji Mission.
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) prepared in advance for the devastation expected from this very powerful storm with trained personnel and supplies ready to go in. In March last year ADRA responded to Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, another Pacific island nation, with shelters, hygiene kits, food and drinking water for thousands of people, so it has some relatively fresh experience for the task.
“This is the worst cyclone ever to hit Fiji,” Iliapi Tuwai, the director of ADRA Fiji, stated. “There is still no power or water in Suva [the capital] and we are not expecting it back until Tuesday. … Without power there is no communication to the remote areas and outlying islands.” The situation could be much worse in northern regions of Viti Levu. Key roads remain closed from Nadi through Lautoka. Roads south from Nadi to Singatoka are also blocked by downed trees and other problems. The dock where boats land at Savusavu, the main town on the island of Vanua Levu has been confirmed as destroyed.
The Fiji government had activated 750 shelters in advance of the cyclone’s landfall. “We are working closely with the government to ensure help is given where it is needed most.” said Tuwai. ADRA New Zealand already has aid workers in Fiji. Access to clean water and sanitation, shelter and good are likely to be the most pressing needs across the country.
The ADRA workers in Fiji are coordinating with the Fiji government, which has declared a 30-day state of emergency, and other responding agencies to assess the levels of destruction, the needs of the people and plan a response that will quickly and effectively bring assistance to those most urgently in need, Braden Blyde, an ADRA staff member for the South Pacific regional office, told Adventist Today. Reports indicate that damage is extensive and at least five people have died as a result of Cyclone Winston.
In support of ADRA Fiji, the global ADRA network has prepared a team of expert personnel to travel to Fiji as soon as possible. In addition, ADRA Australia, ADRA New Zealand and a number of other ADRA country offices around the world are working to raise the funds necessary to cover the costs of operations.
There is little information about damage to Adventist churches or institutions at this point, “but photos from Sabeto, on the outskirts of Nadi, show that the road to Fulton University College is blocked by a fallen tree and floodwaters and at least one building has suffered a minor roof collapse,” Blyde stated.
There are 260 Adventist congregations in Fiji with a total of about 25,000 members, although the official government census shows about 35,000 Adventists out of a population of 865,000 (about four percent). In addition to Fulton, the denomination also operates Suva Adventist College and Navesau Adventist High School.