The following are notes from a conversation this afternoon on a very weak satellite phone connection with Michiel Vos, the principal administrator on Naitauba. Please note, the situation with regard to damage assessment is constantly changing as Naitauba residents gain access to various buildings and locations around the Island that are presently cut off by fallen trees.
Michiel reported that in all the years he has lived in Fiji and all the cyclones he has experienced over the years, he has never seen anything like the force of Tropical Cyclone Winston and the utter devastation it wreaked, but he was deeply relieved that there have been no injuries on Naitauba. All Island residents remain in good spirits and able to begin the process of clean up and repairs despite the vast destruction.
The Outshining Brightness, the principal temple on Naitauba and the most potent seat of Avatar Adi Da’s Blessing to the world, only suffered minor damage, thanks to extensive hurricane reinforcing work done on the temple roof and structural elements after Cyclone Tomas in 2010. However, there was extensive damage to some of the temples in Qaravi, the small village where most devotees reside on the Island. Extraordinary Eyes, the very first temple that Avatar Adi Da established the day He arrived in Naitauba in 1983, has been completely destroyed. There are also huge holes in the roof of another principal temple established in the early years of Avatar Adi Da's time on the Island. Fortunately, there is no significant damage to a number of the other sacred temples and the retreat facilities, which accommodate devotees on pilgrimage from all over the world, incurred only minor damage.
Countless trees have been damaged or destroyed. All roads on the Island are blocked by fallen trees, many of them massive, so no one has been able to traverse the Island to fully assess the damage. Many buildings in the village of Qaravi were destroyed or lost their roofs, and the nearby Fijian village of Ciqomi suffered even more extensive damage to residential structures, and the village church, most unfortunately, was completely destroyed.
This photograph shows destruction to the Fijian village, Ciqomi, on Naitauba. Photograph taken on Thursday, February 25th, 2016. (Click on photo to view full size image.)
As mentioned before, the large passenger and cargo boat that ferries passengers and freight to Naitauba each week over the nearly 40 miles of open ocean between Naitauba and Taveuni is now on its side, blown off the slipway by the 200 mile-per-hour winds, and the smaller back-up boat sunk in shallow water in the lagoon. Since there is no air strip on this very remote Island, these boats are Naitauba’s lifeline—the means by which food and supplies are replenished on a weekly basis and passengers are enabled to get to and from the Island.
The crops at the farm are completely destroyed, so Naitauba is now low on fresh food, but there is plenty of stored food still available. There is drinking water, but many pipes have been damaged, so water has to be fetched in buckets. The power remains off and will have to be turned on in a few days once the generator building is fixed, but very cautiously, because downstream wiring is so damaged and represents a serious fire hazard. The laundry building lost most of its roofing.
Aerial photograph showing devastation to the Naitauba farm crops and damage to trees. The photo was published by the Fijian government on February 24th, 2016. (Click on photo to view full size image.)
The first priority on the Island is to restore basic needs—shelter, power, communications, running water, open roads, etc. The second priority is to gain access to fresh food. Then will begin the enormous task of rebuilding both the sacred temples and all the housing and other facilities that have been destroyed. Therefore, Naitauba will be in desperate need of skilled tradespeople in the coming weeks and months to facilitate this restoration process, including arborists, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and other professionals. As we have been emphasizing, major funding will be required to pay for the rebuilding process, both for the Island in general and also the Fijian village of Ciqomi and all its workshops, given the scale of the destruction. Unfortunately, very few of the structures on Naitauba were insured as it has become increasingly difficult to secure storm damage insurance in the cyclone prone areas of the South Pacific. And those companies that are willing to insure buildings against cyclone damage typically require a very expensive and onerous level of structural upgrades, which most people in Fiji cannot afford, including ourselves.
For those who appreciate the unique qualities of Avatar Adi Da’s holy island of Naitauba, its extraordinary temples and function as a source of spiritual blessing in the world, please find a way to maximize your contributions to the recovery effort. Please also consider if there is any way that you or your friends can volunteer your services to help restore Naitauba in the coming weeks and months ahead.