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TROPICAL Cyclone Winston’s destruction of property, infrastructure and life in Fiji has raised serious questions about the preparedness of Pacific island countries for large-scale disasters. The Category 5 cyclone tore down the traditional evacuation centres – village churches and meeting halls – lifted the roofs off government installations and in coastal villages attacked on two fronts.

First the wind destroyed buildings and crops before huge tidal surges tore in from the sea and completed the work by laying villages flat. Not one village on Vanuabalavu, Taveuni, Yacata, Koro and Ovalau was untouched by Winston. In Ra and Ba on Viti Levu, entire villages were flattened, forests shredded by the wind The repair bill will be more than $1billion and a huge multi-national and multi-sectoral effort has started to ensure life can return to normal as quickly as possible.

Traditionally, homes in Fiji’s villages were built of stout posts to which were lashed sturdy beams and rafters using the ubiquitous magimagi or ropes of coconut fibre. Thatched roofs and walls were blown away by every cyclone and could be replaced immediately using thatch flattened by the winds. Villagers used caves as bunkers during the cyclones…

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