Naitauba Recovery from Category 5 Cyclone Winston

Posted July 2016

Volunteer on Naitauba pruning trees damaged by Cyclone Winston.
Volunteer on Naitauba pruning trees damaged by Cyclone Winston.

Day 7 After the Cyclone—February 27, 2016

The Sea Rakino, a large cargo ship out of Suva, is due to arrive at Naitauba this morning. It contains a large emergency supply of food, equipment, and construction materials including roofing, lumber, cement, and so forth.

The Sea Rakino will likely make another emergency trip to the Northern Lau islands in a few weeks. That is a boost for Naitauba and the other islands in the area who are in great need. Also, Red Bull, the owner of the nearby island of Laucala, sent a barge from Suva today with emergency supplies for the islands of Laucala, Yacata, and Naitauba. This is very good news.

Naitauba is still without an internet connection and the only outside communication is via weak satellite phone.

Power has been partially restored. Running water has been partially restored, enough for the main kitchen and toilets. No showers yet. That will take another few days.

Road crews have worked intensively for the last seven days to clear the two miles of road from the devotee village of Qaravi on the west side of the island to the Matrix on the east side. The crew finally broke through today. This will allow people to reach the Matrix and help clean up the devastation.

The residents of Naitauba feel the support and care of people around the world. It is a tremendous boost for morale in the midst of such a challenging situation.

Damage on Naitauba Island due to Cyclone Winston.
Damage on Naitauba Island due to Cyclone Winston.

Day 8 After the Cyclone—February 28, 2016

The full scale of the disaster is now becoming apparent, as communications are being restored throughout the Fijian archipelago. On the main island of Viti Levu, several townships were almost completely destroyed. In the town of Rakiraki people are drinking dirty water and sleeping in bus shelters. It is a similar story in other towns. The death toll in Fiji remains at 42, although that number is expected to rise. Many communities remain without water and it may be weeks before electricity is restored. More than 62,000 Fijians are homeless and living in evacuation shelters.

In good news, international aid is ramping up. Both Australia and New Zealand are sending relief ships. The HMAS Canberra is expected to arrive in Fiji on March 1st and is stocked with more than 50 tons of aid including water, food, and medical supplies. On board are more than 850 members of the Australian armed forces as well as 96 vehicles and 3 helicopters. This will enable basic necessities and aid to be provided to the remote areas.

Naitauba is still without power, communications, and running water. The natural environment looks like a forest of mowed trees, all cut at the same level above the ground. Very many old-growth trees have been blown over.

Aerial photograph of the island boat on its side. The photo was published by the Fijian government February 24th, 2016.
Aerial photograph of the island boat on its side. The photo was published by the Fijian government February 24th, 2016.

Day 10 After the Cyclone—March 1, 2016

The recovery effort on Naitauba is proceeding on many fronts. Running water has been restored in several locations. The internet and communications are still out except for the satellite phone. Temporary accommodations are very crowded. However, there is little complaining by anyone. Everyone is helping with the recovery and the spirit of cooperation is felt by all.

Another group of volunteers are scheduled to arrive on Naitauba this week, and more in the coming weeks. The response is wonderful and encouraging to all the residents.

Recovery teams are now working all over the island. The tree crews have begun clearing damaged trees affecting the buildings, roads, and farm. Electricians are working on restoring power. The plumbing crews are repairing water pipes that were damaged or broken by uprooted trees all over the island. Carpenters are repairing damaged buildings and removing the wreckages of those destroyed. Volunteers are sifting and clearing the immense storm debris at the Matrix.

Salvage experts on the main island of Fiji are being consulted for assistance with the main Naitauba boat. This 65-foot ocean-going vessel usually carries passengers and cargo over the 40-mile stretch of ocean between Naitauba and Taveuni Island. It is currently on shore lying on its side, having been blown off the slipway where it was undergoing repairs. The plan is for the boat to be raised with large hydraulic jacks and chains, placed back on its slipway carriage using large rollers, and then carefully refloated. In the meantime, the island is relying on seaplanes, inter-island freighters, and occasional charter boats.

Storm debris at the Matrix temple complex on Naitauba.
Storm debris at the Matrix temple complex on Naitauba.

Day 12 After the Cyclone—March 3, 2016

Naitauba Island is now in a positive recovery mode and morale is high, although many amenities are missing and devastation is everywhere. There is a tangible sense of cooperation and mutual support between Adidam devotees and the Fijian staff on the island. Members of the Fijian military, who recently visited, were struck by how special the circumstance on this island was—a place obviously set apart with mutual respect and support between the different cultures. They remarked that the Fijian staff on Naitauba had a very positive and unusual situation.

The internet has been spotty and extremely slow at best. Some areas of the island now have power and running water. Living conditions are very crowded. It is very hot and there is almost no shade since the trees have been stripped of leaves. It is a great boost to everyone on the island when the seaplane arrives each week with more volunteer help.

The cleanup of storm debris and recovery of sacred articles continues at the Matrix, the temple complex on the east side of the island, which was inundated by the huge storm surges from Cyclone Winston. This work is accompanied by a powerful sense of Avatar Adi Da’s Spiritual Presence and Blessing. Today volunteers will move several statues and sacred articles to a new location. Many artifacts that suffered damage are being repaired in a temporary studio in the main village.

A professional salvage operator has been engaged who will come to Naitauba on March 14th with the equipment necessary to get the main boat upright and back onto its carriage on the slipway. After the boat is upright and repaired, the maintenance that was in process when the cyclone hit will take a few more weeks to complete. It will be at least the end of March before it is operational.

Thanks to everyone for your energy and support for the recovery effort on Naitauba. There is also great help arriving for the people throughout Fiji who were impacted by the storm. It is heartening to see the assistance from the international community at this time. We offer our sincere condolences to all who lost their loved ones during this terrible storm.

Day 16 After the Cyclone—March 7, 2016

Naitauba Island is still in recovery mode, with the main boat still several weeks away from being back in service. But the situation is improving day by day.

A New Zealand Navy ship will stop by Naitauba next week with food and supplies for the Fijian staff.

The phone service was restored this morning so that voice communications no longer require the slow satellite phone. Power has been restored to the residents of Ciqomi and Qaravi. The plumbing is now partially working so some running water is back, but it has to be rationed between the residence areas of the island. This is a step up from the bucket showers everyone has been taking. Nobody has had a hot shower since before the storm. The food is very simple. Needless to say, a tremendous amount of work must still be done to clean up the debris, repair buildings that can be repaired, clear all the roads, and restore normal utilities. However, all island residents are coping well and remain in good spirits.

It is clear that most of the important buildings and residences will need to be relocated to higher ground. This storm has been a wake-up call and, as the effects of global warming are no longer projected into the future. Sea walls, although helpful, are not adequate for super-storms like Winston. In the coming months a plan will be developed to migrate key sacred, residence, and practical facilities from beach level to higher ground. We are fortunate that Naitauba Island has ample elevated ground where structures can be relocated.

It is heart-breaking to see how the cyclone ravaged the beautiful native rainforest that covers the island. What was a lush green landscape of majestic trees is now a twisted and broken jumble of fallen trees and branches. When Avatar Adi Da Samraj first came to Naitauba in the early 1980’s, much of the island’s interior was a coconut plantation established by the original European owners back in the 1800’s. Avatar Adi Da asked that most of the coconut trees be removed and the original native forest allowed to regrow. Over the last 30 years, a magnificent array of native trees has grown back. They grow very quickly in the moist tropical environment. Thus, Naitauba has almost recovered its original pristine and natural look from ancient times.

Now, most of that beautiful rainforest has been severely damaged. The good news is that major storms have hit Naitauba in the past, and the vegetation regenerates quickly in the tropical environment. The bad news is that many trees have been left in a dangerous condition, either partially fallen or with large limbs broken but still hanging. Arborists are required to assist with the cleanup of trees. One tree specialist has already arrived on the island and the others are arriving in the next few weeks.

Thank you all for your contributions to the recovery from Cyclone Winston. Your generosity has been overwhelming. The funds are helping the recovery of Naitauba, and a portion of all donations go to assist neighboring islands who also suffered severely from the storm.

Friends in Ciqomi sitting near the rubble that was their house.
Friends in Ciqomi sitting near the rubble that was their house.

Day 18 After the Cyclone—March 9, 2016

A memorial service was held in the staff residential complex of Ciqomi for an old friend’s elder brother, wife, and two children who lost their lives in the cyclone on the nearby island of Vanua Balavu. The service was attended by Adidam devotees and many Fijian friends. A traditional meal was served afterwards. It was a heart-breaking occasion. Our deepest condolences to all who lost their loved ones in this storm.

Green shoots are reappearing on most of the standing trees, as are hibiscus and other tropical flowers.

Internet service has been restored to Naitauba. Power and running water are gradually being turned on across the island. The electrical crew, the telecom crew, and plumbing crew have done heroic work to bring electricity, phone/internet, and water to many areas of the island.

Volunteers report that the clean-up is progressing well at the Matrix on the east side of the island. Relocation of sacred articles to a secure circumstance is complete and the items are undergoing cleaning and restoration. The interior spaces of the Temple complex at the Matrix are now mostly cleaned of debris.

A new group of volunteers arrived at Naitauba by seaplane today. This is the third group to arrive since the cyclone. Residents are very happy whenever new support arrives. The clean-up work is very exhausting.

New Zealand Navy helicopter delivering relief supplies for our Fijian friends in Ciqomi.
New Zealand Navy helicopter delivering relief supplies for our Fijian friends in Ciqomi.

Day 21 After the Cyclone—March 12, 2016

Three weeks have now passed since the worst cyclone in the history of the South Pacific passed directly over Naitauba Island. So much work has been done since that terrifying ordeal to recover from the destruction. Some areas of the island still are without power or running water, but the crews are working hard.

A few days ago a New Zealand Navy ship arrived with relief supplies for the Fijian staff in Ciqomi. The ship was too large to venture inside the reef so the supplies were offloaded by helicopter. All the Fijian children came to witness the helicopter ferrying supplies to the shore. The ship provided one month of food for the Fijians, including staples such as rice, flour, sugar, and oil. They also delivered a large supply of building materials and construction equipment. The sailors handed treats to all 60 children before they departed. Many thanks to the generous people of New Zealand!

Naitauba’s resident architect has prepared an inventory of damaged structures: over 130 buildings were damaged, on a sliding scale between minor damage to total destruction. Crews are going through each building and assessing what must be done to repair or replace each one. A plan also needs to be developed for migrating important structures to higher ground.

The road crews have been working through the days and into the nights to clear the roads of many thousands of downed trees. Massive numbers of trees have been destroyed on the island. There was a drought before and after the cyclone and the soil was dry and hard. Thus most trees did not simply tip over but the roots stayed intact and the trees snapped off above the roots.

Fijian government relief workers arrived on the island to assess the damage and to inquire whether Naitauba needed more help. They said that Naitauba is in relatively good shape due to lack of injuries and all the support from volunteers. Some of the neighboring islands, for example Koro Island, are completely flattened and broken with people killed. The Fijian government is considering evacuating the entire population at Koro, since everything has been wiped out, including all food crops.

Day 25 After the Cyclone—March 16, 2016

This week another group of volunteers with a variety of much-needed skills arrived. They traveled from Suva on the cargo ship Brianna, which also carried a large load of supplies, building materials, and tools. It took 13 hours to unload everything. The new arrivals and cargo were a big morale boost for residents on the island.

Perhaps the most important passengers on the ship were the salvage experts who came to assist with the island’s large cargo and passenger boat. The lead salvage engineer said that he had been pondering night and day about how to perform this complex and dangerous job. The salvage crew seems up to the task and they brought a lot of specialized heavy equipment.

Forms are being distributed to the Fijian staff and their families, so everyone can itemize their personal losses, including furniture, clothing, bedding, etc. Then, a group of Fijian elders will assess everyone’s needs and distribute funds from the Naitauba storm relief donations. A portion of the donations will go toward repair and reconstruction of the Fijian staff residential structures and school building. Fortunately, the staff have already received emergency assistance from the governments of Fiji and New Zealand, and from several relief organizations.

Day 28 After the Cyclone—March 19, 2016

Work is progressing to resume the Perpetual World-Blessing fire vigil on Naitauba, in which Avatar Adi Da’s Blessing for the sake of peace and safety for the entire world. The fire site is situated on a high bluff overlooking the vastness of the ocean in three directions. The fire has been attended continuously, night and day, by devotee residents for many years. Access to this site was interrupted by Cyclone Winston because of storm damage. As the cyclone approached, a flame from the fire was brought inside a temple for safe-keeping, where it was constantly attended since the storm.

The salvage crew is making good progress on Naitauba’s main cargo and passenger boat. The boat is now almost upright. Next, it will be moved sideways on coconut-tree-trunk rollers and positioned above the carriage. Then the boat will be lowered onto the carriage. This process will take several more days. The work is painstakingly slow, one centimeter at a time, because the boat weighs close to 20 tons. But everything is going according to plan.

There has been a prolonged drought preceding the cyclone and now afterwards. The cyclone destroyed many roofs and gutters which are used to catch rainwater. Some of these have been repaired, but the water tanks are mostly empty due to lack of rain. A Fijian government water barge is expected soon to provide drinking water to replenish the large central water tank. From there it will be transported to other areas on Naitauba.

Naitauba maintains a formal school for the Fijian staff children. Most of the contents of the school, including books and computers, were lost in the cyclone. This week the Adidam devotees in New Zealand are sending four large suitcases of school books, clothing, and other school items.

Lali, one of the Naitauba cats who passed away during the storm.
Lali, one of the Naitauba cats who passed away during the storm.

Day 33 After the Cyclone—March 24, 2016

Very unfortunately, a serious accident occurred on Naitauba on March 22nd. A man named Buren Tarawa was severely injured while working with the salvage crew lifting the Naitauba cargo and passenger boat back upright after it was blown over by the cyclone.

A professional marine salvage expert and his assistant came from Suva to guide the process of rightening the boat. Very suddenly, the boat slipped at a critical juncture in this process and Buren was caught beneath the boat. The crew was able to extract him from under the boat and brought him to the island clinic. His leg was crushed. The resident island doctor bound the wound, administered fluids, normalized his blood pressure, and stabilized him. His leg was wrapped and iced. He was in considerable pain and shock but remained conscious. In a few hours a helicopter arrived and evacuated him to a hospital in Suva, where he was taken directly to surgery. As a Naitauba employee, he is covered by the island’s workman’s compensation insurance and will receive the best medical care available.

It should be noted that the salvage professionals were using all safety precautions in moving this immensely heavy vessel. Yet, such projects are inherently dangerous, and this accident occurred in spite of precautions. The salvage team and all Naitauba residents feel heart-heavy at this tragic event. We pray for Buren’s well-being and for all assistance that is necessary for him now and in the future.

Naitauba has a significant non-human population, all of whom were impacted by the cyclone. Unfortunately, one of the dearest island cats, Lali, died during the storm. The structure under which she usually hides and sleeps collapsed on her. Rosi, a wild cat that was domesticated recently, died some weeks after the cyclone from unknown causes. Another cat, Burundi, is doing well but appears more withdrawn since the storm. The other cats and dogs are doing well.

Several of the cows living on Naitauba perished during the storm. These cows are a left-over from the previous owner of the island who maintained the herd as a food source. Twenty of the brown Santa Gertrudis cows that live on the island have been counted since the storm, including some small calves. The surviving cows have wandered all over the island in search of grass which is now returning. Avatar Adi Da Samraj insisted that there be no killing of animals at Naitauba, so the herd has been allowed to continue as part of the natural environment.

The island pig named “Just Marilyn” has been doing well since the cyclone. Previously, residents always fed her inside her large pen, but her pen was damaged during the cyclone by fallen trees. Since the storm she has roamed free in good spirits and has “gone wild” in terms of diet. She has more than enough food from the fallen fruit trees for now and is not interested in the food provided by residents.

The pet birds on the island, including an African grey parrot, are fine after the storm but they were quite stressed during the storm itself.

Many of the wild parrots on Naitauba survived and their sounds are now heard again. The wild fruit bats were decimated by the storm and the remaining ones are famished because there is no fruit in the trees. The other types of birds did survive but are fewer in number. Many were blown out onto the ocean.

Cleared road and pruned trees on Naitauba.

Day 41 After the Cyclone—March 31, 2016

Tomorrow is the six-week anniversary of Cyclone Winston. Much recovery work has been accomplished due to the tremendous support in the form of relief donations and volunteers traveling to the island to assist with clean-up and reconstruction. A portion of the funds raised has been donated by Naitauba to the Fijian government for its Winston Recovery Fund.

Most of the roads on the island have been cleared and many damaged trees have been pruned by the professional arborist volunteers.

The Matrix, the badly-damaged temple complex on the eastern side of the island, has received a great deal of attention and energy from volunteers. The buildings that were invaded by the storm surge have been cleaned, debris has been removed, and restoration work has begun. Sacred artifacts have been recovered, cleaned, repaired, and placed in safe locations.

Major work is in process to restore housing for all the island residents. New roofs have been placed on many residences, other roofs have been repaired, and tarps have been stretched over some buildings as an interim step.

The damaged utilities on the island—water, electricity, internet, and radio communications—have been largely restored.

The Naitauba cargo and passenger boat upright on the slipway again.

The 65-foot cargo and passenger boat is back on the slipway carriage. Soon all repairs will be complete and the boat put back in operation. It took a herculean effort, including Naitauba’s front-end loader and backhoe operating at maximum capacity, to lift the boat back on the carriage. Many thanks to the salvage experts who traveled from the main island in Fiji—they did a remarkable job to complete a very difficult task. It will be a relief to have this primary link to the outside world re-established. Chartered seaplanes are expensive and are limited to a few passengers and few cargo items.

Buren Tarawa, injured in the boat salvage operation, recovering at Suva Private Hospital.
Buren Tarawa, injured in the boat salvage operation, recovering at Suva Private Hospital.

Buren Tarawa, the man injured in the salvage operation, continues to recover at Suva Private Hospital. He and his family have received great support from Adidam devotees around the world and are grateful for the help.

This week marked a significant step toward re-establishment of a full sacred life and prayer on Naitauba. The Perpetual World-Blessing fire vigil was re-established at a holy site at the top of a high hill overlooking the ocean. The fire vigil had been continuously attended at this outdoor location for many years prior to the storm, and a flame from the fire was brought inside a temple for safe-keeping as the cyclone approached.

There have been several joyful festivities during which the Adidam residents and the Fijian staff and their families come together to celebrate the cyclone recovery work done so far and to express gratitude to Avatar Adi Da Samraj for his Blessing. These occasions epitomize a calling that Avatar Adi Da made for cooperation, tolerance, respect, and mutual love between our cultures and religions.

This week it rained hard for several days. While the water tanks and reservoirs are still quite empty, the rain was a welcome respite for the island’s vegetation and fresh-water requirements. Tree leaves and ground vegetation are now returning.

Day 63 After the Cyclone—April 23, 2016

The main cargo and passenger boat has completed engine tests and is now back in operation. The boat salvage crew succeeded in fully repairing and launching the boat in spite of the 17 inches of rain dumped within the preceding 24 hours. Sea conditions permitting, next week the repaired boat will make its first voyage to Taveuni Island since the cyclone.

A crew of aerial surveyors from Canada arrived on Naitauba to produce a detailed topographical map of the island before the thick forest vegetation returns. This crew uses drones to collect their data. Their topographical maps are very accurate and provide the elevation of any point on the island. This data will be used to assist planning for new construction and relocation of island structures to higher elevations.

A residence in Qaravi being restored with a new roof.
A residence in Qaravi being restored with a new roof.

Day 126 After the Cyclone—June 25, 2016

It has been four months since Cyclone Winston struck Naitauba. The recovery effort since that time has been extraordinary. Much restoration has been accomplished but much remains to be done. A steady stream of volunteers continues to arrive each week. Every person makes a significant difference. At this time, Adidam devotees and retreatants fully participate in Naitauba’s sacred activities, including Adidam holy-day celebrations. This past week included a wonderful celebration of Avatar Adi Da’s Image-Art that included screenings of his artworks and a contemplative visit to his art studio Picture Perfect.

Cleanup of the Matrix temple complex on the east side of the island is largely complete. The work of repairing damaged buildings by retreatant carpenters as well as local carpenters continues. In some cases, what appeared to be a minor repair turned out to be a major reconstruction effort. The new and repaired structures are bolted to their foundations and the roofs are fastened to resist future cyclone-force winds.

The preparation of a new structural master plan is underway for Naitauba. Over time, it will provide for moving most structures to higher elevation while maintaining the sacredness of everything Avatar Adi Da Samraj established during his lifetime. It will be challenging, but it must be done.

A large local carpentry crew is expected to arrive in the next few weeks. They will focus on repairs to key buildings such as the wood-working shop and the mechanical garage in Ciqomi. After that, they will begin a critical new project: a category-5 rated storage building on higher ground for the sacred articles that were displaced by the storm.

In the first weeks of July, a very large barge is expected from Suva. It will bring a big shipment of building materials and equipment to repair and replace the remaining damaged structures.