While waiting for five hours in the dark under a tree with her four grandchildren and son at the peak of the storm and floods, 60-year-old Veniana’s only concern during Cyclone Winston was her family.
A few days before Cyclone Winston hit, the worst natural disaster recorded in Fiji’s history, Veniana was in Suva to attend a relatives wedding.
On February 20th morning, she was told by her relatives not to return home but Veniana, concerned for her four grandchildren got in the bus and headed towards home in the Narau Settlement in Ra
“Everyone told me not to travel but I was worried for my grandchildren. Only my 20-year-old son was home and no one else was there to look after the younger ones,” said the grandmother of four.
Veniana reached home safely, but the worst was yet to come.
“I had never seen anything like that in my life. The wind was so strong and everything in the house and the house itself was shaking,” she said.
The roof and the walls of her house were blown away in the wind. Veniana described TC Winston as the devil that came to take their lives.
“We just remained standing in a circle with nothing around us and with no roof over our head. My grandchildren were screaming and crying and my only concern was to save their lives somehow,” she said.
The houses at Narau Settlement are scattered and far away from each other. The next house would be half an hour away on foot. There was no house in sight where Veniana could run to with her family for shelter.
“We just held each other’s hands and decided to walk to the next big tree nearby. There was no other option,” she said. This tree was 150 meters away from Veniana’s house.
“I told the kids to be very fast when moving and we were holding each other’s hands tightly. While moving towards the tree, I fell and my son quickly picked me up and we started crawling more than walking. I remember my 10-year-old granddaughter telling me that she would fly in the wind if she didn’t hold me tightly. I was praying in my heart for nothing bad to happen to us when we were crawling towards the tree. The wind was so strong that I couldn’t even hear my own voice when I wanted to talk to my children,” she said.
Veniana made it to the tree safely with her son and four grandchildren and here they waited for the storm to pass.
“We were sitting under the tree from 6pm to 11pm in the night. It was a long hard wait but I thank the lord because we are still alive,” said a tearful Veniana.
She held her grandchildren tight and they huddled together under the tree as they were battered with rain and wind battered. Then, the flood waters began to rise.
“Although we were at a high spot, the flood waters still reached us. It was windy and raining so we were soaked wet. To make things worse, our legs were dipped in flood waters as we waited under the tree. I cannot imagine going through anything worse than what I experienced that night. I was hoping the flood waters don’t rise any further and we were lucky it didn’t,” she said.
While they were spared from the flood waters, Veniana still had to be on guard and alert for flying debris.
“When we were waiting under the tree, one big roof tin came from somewhere and hit the other side of the tree with a loud bang. We were sitting on the opposite side and were lucky it didn’t hit us,” she said.
After the long wait, the storm finally calmed and Veniana returned to the spot where once her house stood. There was nothing left.
“What we went through was a horrible experience and I don’t want to think about it. I just hope and pray that good things will happen now and I am just glad I was here for my children and that we are alive today,” she said with a smile.
Veniana was the recipient of an emergency shelter kits distributed by Habitat for Humanity Fiji.
“This is the first time I have received tarpaulins, buckets, ropes and tools. I thank Habitat for thinking about us and helping us to move forward in life”.
Habitat for Humanity with the support of our supporters and donors will be distributing 5,000 emergency shelter kits to families severely affected by TC Winston.
Habitat Fiji has developed a 24-month response plan to Cyclone Winston, involving relief, early recovery and rehabilitation phases. Our response is focusing on low-income families in the affected urban, rural areas and informal settlements.
Please donate and help our neighbours in Fiji rebuild.