See the effects on Tavarua Island from Tropical Cyclone Winston, Fiji’s strongest recorded storm in history
Tropical Cyclone Winston, the strongest storm in Fiji's recorded history, has devastated the island nation. The Category five cyclone made landfall Saturday evening, February 20th, leaving the South Pacific islands with severe damage and a declared month-long state of disaster.
Fiji is well known and revered in our action sports community, as it offers some of the most famously perfect breaks in the world. Tavarua Island Resort, which lies off the Western coast of Fiji's main island, has been running since 1984 and annually hosts the "Fiji Pro," a World Surf League event. Cloudbreak and Restaurants—which have been alleged as two of the top ten breaks on the planet—also call Tavarua home, along with five other world class breaks. Kelly Slater has even called the infamous Cloudbreak his favorite wave in the world.
We spoke with Jan Mallis, a resident and marketing manager of Tavarua Island Resort, to see how the tiny heart-shaped island held up through the storm.
Jan explained that since the island workers knew that "preparation is key" for a situation like this, they boarded up every building and bure, and evacuated all guests to a hotel basement on the mainland.
Island residents and workers then called their loved ones, as they assumed the storm would eliminate all communication capacity. The group took a shot of tequila together, went to bed in the boarded up office, and listened to "increasing winds and rain squalls and flying coconuts pounding the roof."
Jan reports that then, in the middle of the night, the wind silenced and "an eerie calm swept over the island" that lasted for several hours, and they would "learn later that it was the mountains on Viti Levu that seemed to protect [them] from the very worst."
Weather reports tell us that the storm swept across the island nation in more of an East to West pattern. North and Northeast areas of the Fijian islands got hit the hardest, while Western and Southern areas fared a bit better. Tavarua sits on the West side of the main island, so the storm dissipated slightly before it reached Tavarua with full force.
Jan describes when morning came, and they went outside to assess the damage – "incredibly, the island remained for the most part still green and no structures were harmed but for one of the palapas by the pool. Most important, we began to hear from our staff in their villages and all reported back in safe."
That morning after the storm initiated the long clean-up and restoration process that lies ahead for the island staff. Jan and everyone on the island extends thanks for all of the support they have received.
"Truly we feel blessed and fortunate to have passed thru this record-breaking storm as we did. Everyone associated with Tavarua Island is so grateful for all the thoughts and prayers sent our way and we wish to say a big “vinaka vakalevu” to all.
Unfortunately, the rest of Fiji was not as lucky, and could use the help and generosity of the international community."
We want to give a huge thanks to Jan for taking the time to send us an update and pictures. We’re so grateful and relieved to hear that the Tavarua and its people remained safe through the catastrophe.
Indeed, many other areas of Fiji were much less fortunate, and remain in grave condition. The cyclone has killed more than 29 people and left more than 13,000 in shelters.
“The imagery is heartbreaking,” UNICEF spokesperson Alice Clements told the AP. “You’re looking down and expecting to see a village and instead you’re seeing a field of debris.”
The Washington Post says that Winston ranks among strongest tropical cyclones on record to strike land anywhere in the world and is probably the most intense to come ashore since Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines with 190 mph maximum sustained winds in 2013.
Sustained winds were recorded at 185mph, with gusts as high as 225 mph near the storm's eye. The Ministry of Education has announced that all schools will be closed next week, the nation warns of disease outbreak, and serious water shortages.
We would like to encourage any relief efforts possible to our friends in Fiji. Below is a link to help provide clean water to the nation.
The Fijian government has also established disaster relief funds, details here:
The people of Fiji have the biggest smiles and the warmest hearts–let’s show them that their international community supports them by opening our hearts to them. Everything helps.
Detailed account of the storm experience from Jan Mallis, Tavarua Island Resort Manager:
"Preparation is key – We knew that Cyclone Winston was going to be a big one – but we were unsure of its direction up until the last hours. This cyclone kept us guessing, but come Friday we knew we couldn't take any chances. We evacuated all the guests to the mainland and began the arduous and meticulous task of getting the island ready for what ever was to come.
We boarded up every bure, the restaurant and the office/boutique. Anything and everything that could be blown was moved indoors. But most important was making sure that the staff and management that stayed on the island were safe. To that end we all bundled up in the office to ride out the storm, including our two island dogs – Mali and Tui. We had board games, water and power and were prepared to hang there for a couple of days. We all felt that the communication tower would be the first thing to go – as it was during Cyclone Evan 5 years ago. That meant that we wouldn't be able to get internet or phone service – so we let all our loved ones know ahead of time that should they not hear from us – it was going to be okay – and we were going to be safe.
We stayed informed about the intensity of the storm – and that it was an international story. I would have to say that those of us that have never ridden out a cyclone before were a bit worried, but those of us that have experienced cyclones before felt comfortable with the procedures put in place to secure the island. All the predictions said that the worst of it would pass thru during the hours of midnight to 3am. We could hear the storm intensifying all during the evening hours – with increasing winds and rain squalls and flying coconuts pounding the roof.
We all shared a shot of tequila and sorted ourselves to our beds – knowing that we would most likely be awakened soon and ready to do what needed to be done. But come midnight an eerie calm swept over the island. It was this calm that woke us all up. The wind had backed off, and the rain was very light. We took the opportunity to go outside and check on the kevlar walls on the restaurant and office, and had to do some mid storm fixes, but everything was tight and holding. Plenty of trees were down, branches, palm fronds and of course coconuts. This eerie calm lasted for several hours and we would learn later that it was the mountains on Viti Levu that seemed to protect us from the very worst.
Morning came and we walked outside to assess the damage – incredibly the island remained for the most part still green and no structures were harmed but for one of the palapas by the pool. Most important we began to hear from our staff in their villages and all reported back in safe. The communication tower never went down and our phones were working so we could touch base with the rest of the world. Truly we feel blessed and fortunate to have passed thru this record breaking storm as we did.
Everyone associated with Tavarua Island is so grateful for all the thoughts and prayers sent our way and we wish to say a big vinaka vakalevu to all.
Unfortunately the rest of Fiji was not as lucky, and could use the help and generosity of the international community."