Tropical Cyclone Winston: Surviving the Fury

On 20th February 2016 Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston barreled and battered a path across Fiji. The eye of the strongest ever cyclone in the Southern hemisphere passed over Taveuni. We survived.

All Safe and Sound

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.

Our personal experience

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.

The Aftermath

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. Among 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.