Greetings to all of you around the world who have been so kind as to ask about our well-being during and after Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston, one of the strongest cyclones in history that smashed its way through Taveuni and other parts of Fiji on 20th February 2016. Immediately following the cyclone communications all over the island were severely disrupted, and at this time we are still reinstating our own Wifi internet and mobile services, so sincere apologies from us for being unable to respond individually to all your enquiries. Most importantly we can confirm that both Danielle, myself, all our staff, and their families are all safe and sound, although somewhat battered after the experience. The pearl farm under the water is largely intact, however the over-water implant shed was badly damaged and will require some significant work to reinstate it to its former photogenic glory. The recently opened Boutique in Matei suffered no damage.

From a personal perspective 20th February was a day neither of us wish to experience again. The eye of the storm passed over the southern half of Taveuni, about 30km away from our residence in Matei. Those close to the eye were subject to windspeeds that were a shade shy of 300km/h, 20-30 foot tidal waves along the coastlines, and six inches of rain per hour.

In most properties the bathroom is one of the safest rooms in the house to take shelter during natures fury, and this is where we bunkered down to hopefully see the storm out. Winston, however, had other ideas. Every part of the house above the main flooring was systematically torn away by a thunderous onslaught. Our refuge in the bathroom became a perilous prison when one of the main support posts for the property crashed through the ceiling and brought the walls down around us. However, we were unable to move to a new place of “safety”, wherever that may have been, as the winds exerted so much force on the collapsed walls they could not be moved. All we could do was pray. After what seemed an eternity semi-exposed to these unbelievable conditions the wind finally swung around causing a wall to shift enough for us to make an exit. Having narrowly escaped relatively unscathed from the collapsing post that fell directly between us the threat now came from the further disintegration of the property and flying debris – splintered timbers snapped like toothpicks, roofing iron capable of decapitation, and all manner of branches and vegetation ripped from the gardens and surrounding rainforest.

Thankfully the switch in wind direction marked the passing of the eye. After the slow and steady build-up that had begun in the early morning through to the peak intensity in the early afternoon, the back side of the storm passed quite quickly and were able to venture outside and begin assessing the immediate damage.

In short, our home was totally destroyed along with fixtures, fittings and appliances. Most of our personal belongings damaged beyond repair or disappeared never to be found.

For those would be “storm chasers”, this is the power of a Category 5 cyclone – a force to be reckoned with and not taken lightly. Around Fiji Tropical Cyclone Winston left at least 43 people dead. Large parts of the population reside in properties much less robust than ours, and homes such as these that lay in the path of Winston – in some cases entire villages – were wiped off the map. Amongst this destruction, three of our staff also had their homes completely destroyed.

For the last two weeks our time has been completely consumed by personal recovery, housing recovery, and beginning the business recovery. Although this episode was highly traumatic for us both we have come through it without physical injury. We have partially renovated and moved to an alternative residential property on the same block of land, replaced essential household items, and our farm stocks are recoverable despite some losses.

Like us, Taveuni as whole is also recovering. The people here are strong and resourceful, supplies are now reaching us, villages and infrastructure are being rebuilt and repaired, resorts and stores are returning to business as usual, the natural landscape will likely transform back to normality at astonishing speed. Below the water the reefs and ocean life have fared exceptionally well.

One great positive for us is that our Boutique in Matei came through Winston with no damage, and our stocks are good.

We still have the most beautiful pearls in the world.

We encourage you to visit.

Taveuni is open for business.

And we are still here.

Please note that due to the damage at the implant shed Civa Fiji Pearls farm tours are suspended until 1st July 2016

2 thoughts on “Tropical Cyclone Winston: Surviving the Fury

  1. Dear Claude, Our hearts go out to you, your wife, and the many lovely people we met during our time on Taveuni last year. Nous sommes vraiment desoles d’entendre vos nouvelles. Your story is truly terrifying, and your survival sounds like a miracle. We have heard from others on the island about the devastation and loss of homes, and are sending our most heartfelt wishes for as speedy as possible a recovery to normal life on the island. From those we have met here in New Zealand who lived through the Christchurch earthquake, I believe that recovering from the trauma will be as hard as the physical rebuilding. Wonderful news though that your pearl farm has survived, along with your new business. I know that success in your business is also a success for the island and for your neighbours there.
    All the very best, avec meilleus souvenirs, Tina and Roger Restall


  2. Dear Claude & Danielle. Thank you for your post. Sorry it has taken me a while to get in touch however you have both been on my mind. I had heard from Christene that you were both safe, she did mention that your home was destroyed. What a terrifying experience and thank god you both came out of it alive and uninjured. I am in shock looking at your photos. I am so sad to see the devastation however the most important thing is that you are both ok. All else can be re-built / will re-grow however a life cannot be replaced. Thinking of you both. All the best and I’m sure our paths will cross again soon. Best wishes, Zillah xx


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