By Joe Cropp, IFRC
Fiji Red Cross continues to provide much needed relief to communities devastated by Tropical Cyclone Winston. Every day, emergency response teams are managing to reach more remote parts of the country, yet villages on some of the outer islands still remain isolated, accessible only by helicopter or long boat journeys.
Yesterday, two ships transporting trucks laden with Red Cross relief supplies departed Suva's Kings Wharf, headed for the Lomaiviti and Lau Group of Islands which lay directly in the path of the cyclone as it tore through Fiji’s Eastern Division. There are over 30 inhabited islands in the area and it will take the Fiji Red Cross relief teams on board at least six days to assess the impact of the storm and distribute the relief items.
More than 34,000 people still remain in evacuation centres around Fiji, while others seek shelter with friends and relatives whose homes survived the most powerful cyclone to ever hit the country.
Red Cross Director Filipe Nainoca said the scale of the disaster was becoming clearer as staff and volunteers reached the more remote communities and the many islands scattered around Fiji.
"The unfortunate thing is that in some places, our own volunteers, the very people that we look to respond to these disasters, have been severely, severely affected," he said.
"Some of them are in evacuation centres, so we have to send a support teams from outside the affected areas to provide relief.”
Salote Roko, a Red Cross volunteer who lives near Suva, has been making regular trips to deliver much needed relief supplies to devastated villages, including tarpaulins, blankets and clothes. Each day her team drives a little bit further, pushing along the coast and up into the mountains.
“The hardest part is seeing families suffer and not having enough supplies with us to give them. It’s so hard to leave at the end of the day, and return to the city, leaving them behind,” she said.
“But we reassure them that more help is coming. We let them know that we are there for them and we will be back with more.”
Salote recalls one village where every house except one had been totally destroyed. “As each house was destroyed by the cyclone, families retreated further back until they were all sheltering in the last house standing.”
She said the resilience of people was inspiring, describing one community which used shovels and sticks to clear a landslide that had isolated their village, opening the way for Red Cross relief trucks to drive in.
“These communities will rebuild; we need to be there for them in every way we can.”