On Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, Fiji experienced the most devastating cyclone ever to hit land in the South Pacific. By a margin of only 6 mph, Cyclone Winston was the second largest storm ever to be recorded hitting land anywhere in the world. The news media in Australia described the combination of events as a “worst case scenario” for creating widespread destruction.
This was a class 5 storm with sustained winds of 143 mph and gusts up to 202 mph. When it made landfall on the largest island, Viti Levu, the sustained wind speed was 180 mph. Winston was moving at 12 to 16 mph, which is fortunately a fairly fast pace so it did not linger over any one area for a long period of time.
The destructive area of winds around the eye stretched 211 miles across, as large as Fiji’s two main islands combined. The central air pressure was 915hPa, making it extremely devastating to structures. It created waves and a tidal surge up to 40 feet high on some islands, dropping torrential rains that caused massive flooding in many inhabited areas.
Fortunately, the reported loss of life is only around 70 people, though some remote areas cannot be reached even two weeks after the storm. Communications are still down and it has been impossible to get to many places to access the circumstances.
The top half of Viti Levu (the main island), and the bottom half of Vanua Levu (the 2nd largest island) were exposed to the most destructive forces of the winds. In addition, the cyclone went directly over and through at least 10 other sizable inhabited islands as it approached the two main islands. The Coral Coast and Nadi, the main tourist areas, experienced quite a bit of flooding, but did not take the brunt of the winds.
All power on the two main islands was knocked out for over a week. Though power is now restored in most large city areas, some rural locations may be without electricity for weeks or even months to come, so widespread is the destruction to the power grid. Schools were closed for up to two weeks throughout the nation while a preliminary assessment of damage could be carried out. Many schools and rural clinics were completely destroyed or damaged so badly they cannot be used without extensive repairs.
In a number of villages only 2 or 3 structures remain standing. All other homes and businesses have been destroyed. On the islands affected, virtually all crops have been wiped out. The loss of livestock, especially chickens, is almost total in a number of villages and on a number of islands where we have accurate reports.
Despite the fact that the U.S. news media have ignored this story, I’ve waited to report to you because I’ve been trying to get news from friends and ministry partners in the places TUtP has worked over the years. None of my contacts have lost loved ones. All of my contacts have their homes intact, or they suffered only minimal structural damage. Most have lost all their crops and most of their livestock. Our bees seem to have survived with only minor damage.
I just heard a few minutes ago from a pastor friend in Suva who pastors one of the largest churches in Fiji, that at least 50,000 Fijians are still in relief shelters two weeks after the storm ended. The entire nation has only around 850,000 citizens.
I would like to raise at least $10,000 to help those who have been affected the worst by this event. I will work directly with my church and government contacts to get funds to those who have the greatest need. We may not be able to do much, but we can do something. Let me know if you can help. When funds are available, I’ll travel to Fiji to deliver what we can make available.
Thanks and Blessings!