Naitauba Island Struck by Category 5 Cyclone Winston

Posted February 2016

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

Like other islands in Fiji, Naitauba Island took a direct hit from tropical Cyclone Winston, the fiercest storm recorded to date in the Southern Hemisphere.

The eye of the storm passed directly over Naitauba on February 20th, 2016. The strongest winds were recorded just 25 miles away, at over 180 mph.

The island suffered very severe damage. Many thousands of trees were blown over and dozens of residences and other structures were destroyed or suffered major damage. The two boats used for transportation to and from the island were both badly damaged. The organic farm and fruit-bearing trees on the island were devastated. Power and communications infrastructures suffered severe damage. On most of the island, extreme cyclone winds were the main cause of the destruction. On the eastern side of the island where the land elevation is low, ocean water from the storm surge damaged or destroyed many trees, buildings, temples, and holy sites.

Fortunately, some of the most important structures on the island had been recently upgraded to withstand category 5 storms. These structures survived well in the face of this cyclone and protected all the people inside. Miraculously, there were no injuries among 200+ people on the island at the time.

Satellite image of Cyclone Winston directly over the island of Naitauba.
Satellite image of Cyclone Winston directly over the island of Naitauba.

The Day of the Cyclone—February 20, 2016

Using a weak satellite phone connection as the cyclone was winding down, the island manager on Naitauba contacted via satellite phone the Naitauba administrative office in Suva located on the main Fijian island of Viti Levu. This is his report.

Everyone on the island, including all Fijian and other local staff members are safe, which is a great relief! The winds are still very strong so only a few people have ventured out to assess the situation. The damage from this category 5 storm appears to be 10 times worse than from category 4 cyclone Tomas which devastated the Island in 2010.

Most buildings in the staff residential complex of Ciqomi have been destroyed. All staff are sheltering in the large bure (a native Fijian style structure built last year to withstand strong winds). A part of the roof blew off but everyone is safe.

In Qaravi where most of the Adidam residents live, two temples have been impacted—one lost its roof completely and the other suffered damage which is apparently not severe. The Adidam devotee residences suffered extensive damage. Many buildings in this area lost their roofs or were completely destroyed.

The main message is that everyone on the island is safe but in a complete state of shock due to the scale of devastation. It is utterly heart-breaking. There will be a need for much financial support in the coming days, weeks, and months. There is also a need for people with practical skills to come to Naitauba to help. If any Adidam devotees or friends have carpentry, plumbing, electrical, or mechanical skills, please consider coming to help repair and restore this precious island.

Aerial photograph of the destruction at Ciqomi. The photo was taken by the New Zealand Defense Forces and published by the Fijian government on February 24th, 2016.

Day 1 After the Cyclone—February 21, 2016

Using a satellite phone link the day after the cyclone, the island manager on Naitauba reported to staff at the Naitauba administrative office in Suva as follows.

None of the current residents of Naitauba has ever seen anything like the force of Cyclone Winston and the devastation it has wreaked. Miraculously, all island residents are uninjured and in good spirits, and are beginning to assess the destruction. Island residents are attempting to gain access to the locations and buildings around the island which are presently cut off by fallen trees.

The main passenger and cargo boat for Naitauba, a 65-foot twin-engine ocean-going vessel, was undergoing routine maintenance on a carriage out of the water. The boat was blown over on its side and the carriage was severely damaged. Getting this large vessel upright and back in the water is a top priority, as it is the main link to Taveuni Island where the airport, ferry services, and supplies are. The 33-foot back-up boat that was moored in the lagoon was sunk. These boats are used to transport passengers and freight over the 40 miles of open ocean between Naitauba and Taveuni Island. Since there is no airstrip on this remote island, these boats are Naitauba’s lifeline.

The Naitauba cargo and passenger boat blown over by the force of Cyclone Winston.

Island staff are attempting to restart the electric generators and restore power. However, there is concern about damaged electrical wiring in the destroyed buildings. Damaged wires can cause a fire if the power is turned on before they are thoroughly checked. Therefore, inspection of all electric wiring will happen as soon as possible.

The Outshining Brightness, the principal temple on Naitauba and the most potent seat of Avatar Adi Da’s Blessing to the world, suffered only minor damage thanks to extensive structural reinforcing work performed after cyclone Tomas in 2010. However, there was extensive damage to some of the temples and residences in Qaravi, where most Adidam devotees on the island reside. Extraordinary Eyes, the first temple that Avatar Adi Da Samraj established the day He arrived in Naitauba in 1983 has been completely destroyed. There are large holes in the roof of another principal temple established in the early years of Avatar Adi Da’s time on the island.

Cyclone Winston damage to Ciqomi on Naitauba.
Cyclone Winston damage to Ciqomi on Naitauba.

The Naitauba farm crops are completely destroyed. The residents are low on fresh food but there is plenty of stored food available. Although many water pipes have been damaged, clean drinking water is available and can be fetched using buckets. The laundry building lost most of its roof.

The first priority on the island is to restore basic needs—shelter, power, communications, running water, open roads, etc. Then will begin the enormous task of rebuilding the residences, temples, and other facilities that were destroyed. Naitauba will be in need of skilled tradespeople in the coming weeks and months, including arborists, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and others. Unfortunately, very few of the structures on Naitauba were insured, as it is difficult to secure storm insurance in the cyclone-prone areas of the South Pacific.

Aerial photograph of the Naitauba farm buildings and surrounding trees stripped of leaves. The photo was taken by the NZ Defense Forces and published by the Fijian government February 24th, 2016.
Aerial photograph of the Naitauba farm buildings and surrounding trees stripped of leaves. The photo was taken by the NZ Defense Forces and published by the Fijian government February 24th, 2016.

Day 2 After the Cyclone—February 22, 2016

It has been wonderful to see the logistical support from the main Fijian island of Viti Levu, not just for Naitauba, but for all of our neighbors in the Lau group who are desperately in need of food and building supplies. It is fantastic that so many Adidam devotees and friends have volunteered to travel to Naitauba immediately to assist with the recovery. Hopefully the first contingent of volunteers can arrive within a week.

The jetty on Taveuni Island used by the Lomaviti Princess, the large ferry that transports supplies from Suva to Taveuni Island, has been destroyed. This is bad news. Thankfully, Fijian cargo boat, the MV Sea Rakino with a capacity of 70 tons, will be leaving Suva later this week for the Lau island group to bring emergency supplies. They will also stop at Naitauba. The Naitauba administrative staff in Suva will be purchasing equipment and materials such as chainsaws, tools, roofing iron, tarps, food, etc., to send on this ship.

The main wharf where the Adi Da Samrajashram sign is located lost 6-7 feet of its end, a huge concrete and steel structure just sheared off by the force of the winds. The small temple at the wharf, where retreatants arrive at the island, was very badly damaged, while the roof of the residential building at the wharf was blown away.

Damage at Qaravi village on Naitauba.
Damage at Qaravi village on Naitauba.

The Matrix is a complex of temples on the east side of the island. It is also the place where Avatar Adi Da Samraj would sit in meditation with Adidam devotees. It is a sacred place deeply treasured in Adidam.

By walking along the beach at low tide, some residents from the west side of the Naitauba managed to reach the Matrix on the east side. Along the way they passed the staff residential complex of Ciqomi. Most buildings in Ciqomi have been destroyed. The Ciqomi residents have been working to erect temporary structures so that all residents have at least interim shelter.

The damage at the Matrix is severe, as it is situated just a few yards from the ocean. The principal temple at the Matrix suffered extensive damage. The storm surge broke through the shutters and doors and vents and there was significant water damage and intrusion of storm debris. The residents who reached the Matrix via the beach remained overnight and reported that they felt the pristine stillness of Avatar Adi Da’s Spiritual Presence very potently there, untouched by the destruction.

Whereas most damage in the areas on the west side of the island (Ciqomi and Qaravi) was caused by the wind, the damage on the east side was caused by storm-water surge. The storm surge peaked at the time of half-tide, 4 hours earlier and much stronger than predicted.

Most of the trees on Naitauba were stripped of leaves and small branches.
Most of the trees on Naitauba were stripped of leaves and small branches.

Day 3 After the Cyclone—February 23, 2016

Our hearts go out to all the families of those across the Fijian Islands who lost their loved ones. Very fortunately, no lives were lost on Naitauba.

A big thank-you to everyone who is supporting Naitauba in this moment of need. Your donations will allow us to transport workers, supplies, equipment, materials, and tents to the island, and to begin the reconstruction in the weeks ahead.

There is still no electric power and communications within the island and to the outside world are very limited. There is still no running water but clean water is available by bucket.

One small punt is now operational so that food and water can be delivered to the eastern, or windward, side of the island. The Matrix did not suffer just a single storm surge. The entire complex was inundated with many feet of ocean water for several hours during the fierce winds. The water was churning around the buildings like a gigantic washing machine, smashing into the buildings despite the storm shutters and bringing a huge amount of debris with them. There is a vast amount of clean-up and repairs that will be necessary. The task of removing debris is enormous. Volunteers are encouraged to come and assist with the cleanup.

The situation in Fiji remains very fragile. This storm ravaged island after island, village after village. So many homes and farms and churches and schools have been completely destroyed. A portion of the donations to Naitauba will be directed to assist all these people of Fiji as well.

One of the many houses in Ciqomi on Naitauba that were damaged or destroyed by Cyclone Winston.
One of the many houses in Ciqomi on Naitauba that were damaged or destroyed by Cyclone Winston.

Day 4 After the Cyclone—February 24, 2016

The first wave of skilled volunteers has now departed for Fiji. They will take a chartered seaplane directly from Nadi to Naitauba, since there are still no flights between Nadi and Taveuni Island. They will also bring urgently-needed tools and equipment. A second wave of volunteers will depart for Fiji next week. It has been heart-warming to see how many skilled men and women are volunteering to go.

Other equipment and materials are being sourced in Suva and will be sent on the cargo ship, the MV Sea Rakino, later this week. It will take roughly 24 hours for the ship to travel across the ocean from Suva to Naitauba.

Volunteers at LAX in Los Angeles departing for Fiji.
Volunteers at LAX in Los Angeles departing for Fiji.
The following link shows aerial photographs of the island of Yacata taken by New Zealand air reconnaissance. Yacata is the closest Fijian island to Naitauba, about 2.5 hours west of Naitauba by boat. It is heart-breaking to see the devastation that occurred there. Yacata was the next island to be hit by tropical Cyclone Winston after it passed over Naitauba. https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/297236/evacuees-from-island-wiped-out-by-winston-traumatised 

The following link shows aerial photographs of the island of Vanuabalavu, southeast of Naitauba, where Cyclone Winston made its first landfall in Fiji just before reaching Naitauba. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/pacific/297294/villages-‘wiped-out’-on-fiji-island 

Another selection of photos of the cyclone destruction in Fiji: https://www.cnn.com/2016/02/21/world/gallery/fiji-cyclone-winston/  Our hearts go out to the people on these devastated islands. The international community must step in quickly to provide relief to the remote islands like Vanuabalavu. The Fijian government itself cannot cope with the scale of this disaster. They simply don’t have enough people, ships, airplanes, and crews to address all the urgent needs. Thanks to everyone for your help and please continue to pray for all those who were in the path of the cyclone throughout Fiji.
Aerial photograph of the destruction on Koro Island. The photo was taken by the NZ Defense Forces and published by the Fijian government February 24th, 2016.
Aerial photograph of the destruction on Koro Island. The photo was taken by the NZ Defense Forces and published by the Fijian government February 24th, 2016.

Day 5 After the Cyclone—February 25, 2016

As of yesterday, the reported death toll in Fiji is over 50 and more than 50,000 people, over 6% of the population, are in emergency shelters.

Naitauba continues to have minimal internet access via the one satellite phone.

Today the first group of skilled volunteers arrived at Naitauba by seaplane. They include arborists, carpenters, and electricians. The seaplane also brought emergency food supplies for Naitauba residents. A second set of volunteers with essential skills will be arriving next week, and more in the weeks following. This will provide a big boost to our recovery efforts.

The people at Naitauba expressed deep gratitude for all the energy, money, and love communicated by everyone who has given support in the last few days. This makes a huge difference in the morale of everyone on the island.

Volunteers arriving at Naitauba to assist with the recovery.
Volunteers arriving at Naitauba to assist with the recovery.