Six months on – a new beginning for victims of tropical Cyclone Winston

Published: 22 August 2016 3:28 CET

By Corinne Ambler, IFRC

Sam Naborokia has experienced many cyclones in his 83 years, but none as destructive as Tropical Cyclone Winston. When Winston struck his village on 20 February this year, the wheelchair-bound grandfather feared the worst.

“My grandchildren came and carried me and put me under the bed. Then as the storm got stronger they put me under the house. I felt so alone under there and when the morning came I crawled out and saw that there was no house,” he said.

Sam’s village of Naboutolu, in the interior of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, was one of the worst hit by Winston. Forty of the 44 houses were destroyed. But now something positive has happened - Sam and his family are to receive a brand new house thanks to the Red Cross.

Sam is the first recipient in Fiji of a “core shelter” built by Fiji Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Constructed under a Build Back Better scheme, the house is one of a series of core shelters being built in the worst-hit villages, as a training exercise to show other villagers how to rebuild their homes to be safer and better with the materials they have bought with the Government’s Help for Homes scheme.

The new houses are being built to withstand future cyclones, and the recipients are chosen by the whole village.

“I was shocked when the carpenters came in and started working on the site. I never dreamt they would rebuild my house. I felt so happy I prayed and prayed and thanked the Lord,” said Sam.

IFRC shelter delegate Colin Price says the demonstration houses will have many features to make them safer during future storms.

“The strongest side of the house, which includes the toilet, bathroom and kitchen, can be positioned on either side to face the prevailing winds, which will protect the rest of the house. The houses will have a sloping roof, which is stronger than a flat roof and provides cooler living conditions.

“There will also be bracing and hurricane strapping and concrete pad footings acting as anchors to hold the whole structure down from the roof level all the way down to the foundations,” Mr Price said.

Sam Naborokia says the best feature of his new house is the indoor toilet and bathroom. There will be added social benefits too.

“I feel very happy about the future and safe. Not only that, the ramp to the outside will help me interact and socialise with people. Before, it was hard for me. People had to lift me from one place to the other. But now I’ll be counted as part of the community.”

Village Turanga Ni Koro (headman), Melesi Varakuka, says he appreciates everything Fiji Red Cross has done for his village and its 250 inhabitants.

“Red Cross rebuilt our toilets, they brought solar lights, food, and clothes. But the most important thing they brought was their friendship. They stayed in the village with us, they slept with us, they ate with us,” he said.

Fiji Red Cross and IFRC plan to build 50 demonstration houses (core shelters with additional features), across 10 of its branches in the North, West and Central divisions of Fiji. Additional features include wet areas, toilet, kitchen, veranda, shutters and disability features such as ramps and wider doorways. 

The houses are funded by ECHO (European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations) and Australian Red Cross through the Tropical Cyclone Winston appeal.

The Red Cross will also repair 2,000 homes and aims to reach 10,000 households with Build Back Safer guidance and messaging over the next six months as communities recover.