24 Feb 2016

Fiji after Winston - concerns over water, food, sickness

12:41 pm on 24 February 2016

A resident in a squatter settlement in Fiji fears people will soon fall sick due to the devastation caused by Cyclone Winston.

The settlement of Lovu, near Lautoka, is still without power or water following Cyclone Winston.

The settlement of Lovu, near Lautoka, is still without power or water following Cyclone Winston. Photo: RNZ / Alex Perrottet

The most powerful storm in the country's recorded history hit Fiji on Saturday.

It destroyed entire villages, flooding low-lying areas, and wiped out crops. The death toll from Cyclone Winston now stands at 29, and it is feared that number will rise further when communication is restored to outlying islands.

Lovu, on the main island of Viti Levu, was one of the areas badly lashed by the category five storm, and residents living in a squatter settlement there have described it as the scariest experience of their lives.

About 300 families live at the settlement. Some of the homes are destroyed, with families living on what is left of the foundations.

There's little food, and water and help has yet to arrive.

A resident Veena Chand said mosquitos were already a problem.

"We are afraid of having some kind of disease or anything, like itchy started, muddy water. Feeling mosquitoes around in the house."

A local church leader with C3 church in Lovu Settlement Lomi Naisau said she was brought to tears watching a family standing in the rain with the remains of their house lying flat on the ground.

"We saw that there was a house that was actually demolished and we could only see the foundation of the house and all their belongings, well not actually all of their belongings because most of them was flown up in the cyclone as well."

Ms Naisau said her church had been working with the local community, which is desperately poor, and in conjunction with Tear Fund they hope to bring relief supplies in as soon as possible.

Elizabeth Moore

Elizabeth Moore Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Elizabeth Moore's home survived the storm, but she doesn't know if the government will help her and her neighbours.

"There's no water, there's no power so we have to use the resources we have left, and we have to go out and look for water in nearby areas. We managed to get a couple of buckets. If the water doesn't resume by tomorrow, or the electricity... we need power."

Ms Moore says she grabbed her one-year-old child and escaped her neighbour's house as it was flooded with rainwater during the cyclone.

She says the ran to the nearby church seeking shelter, with tin roofs flying around her.

"With that wind blowing and all the trees flying around because it came with a tornado, that strong wind tornado. You could see all the leaves going everywhere with trees and all. Even this rooftop was flying. I heard some tin coming off that roof because I'm right next door. It was really scary."

Residents who have sustained damage to their homes in Lautoka say they have not heard from authorities about water supply but are in desperate need.

Many have had to walk for 15 minutes to collect water each day for cooking, washing and drinking.

Sanjelene Lata, who survived with her husband and five children by cowering in the kitchen, said power was not as important as water over the next few days.

The category five Cyclone Winston tore the roof off some of the outer rooms of her house, and a guava tree was knocked onto the laundry, crushing it.

She said she hoped to hear about emergency water supply soon.

"No one is asking about the water. If the water is not running, at least they can supply the water trucks and we can collect it. There is no (talk) about that either. No Water Works Department. Not a drop of water for those people. What will they do? What will they drink? What will they do the cooking with?"

13,193 people are currently in evacuation centres around the country, the government said on Tuesday afternoon.

More than 50 evacuation centres around the country are accommodating those who fled their homes during the height of Cyclone Winston.

A 30-day state of emergency is in place across the country in the aftermath of the cyclone, and schools and universities are closed until the end of the week.

Calls for donations

The Red Cross says people wanting to help Fijians whose lives have been turned upside down by Cyclone Winston should give cash.

Its Pacific engagement officer Josephine Bartley said people are eager to help.

"Cash is the best way to help with the recovery in Fiji. Donating to our Pacific disaster relief fund is one option, and then the other humanitarian organisations, they also have their relief funds.

"Donating cash, because it will help stimulate the economy back in Fiji."

Ms Bartley says the local Fijian community is also planning to send containers of goods.

Follow RNZ International reporter Alex Perrottet, who is in Fiji