On 17 December 2020, Tropical Cyclone Yasa roared across Fiji as a Category 5 storm, packing wind gusts of up to 345 kilometres an hour and 3m storm surges. It is estimated that more than 90,000 people were affected , particularly on the second largest island of Vanua Levu and smaller outer islands. Houses and community buildings have been flattened, crops destroyed, and water supplies, power and communications networks have suffered significant damage. Red Cross volunteers swung straight into action as the cyclone approached and have been working hard to reach affected communities as Christmas looms.

Photos: Ponipate/IFRC

Red Cross volunteers across Fiji started preparing for the cyclone the week before it made landfall, prepositioning stock and helping communities prepare by securing their properties and possessions and identifying safe places to move to if needed.

Esita Yalewa, 30, says she, her husband Niumaia, 49, and their 6-year-old daughter are lucky to be alive after evacuating to safety. But they returned to find their house destroyed and a completely changed landscape.

Initial assessments show that houses and community buildings in Vanua Levu and islands in Cyclone Yasa’s path have been damaged or destroyed by ferocious winds, flash flooding and storm surges and the full extent of the damage is still emerging.

Access to many areas has been hampered by massive debris, damage to roads and infrastructure coupled with the remoteness of the affected communities. Red Cross is continuing to work alongside authorities to provide relief as quickly as possible.

Fiji Red Cross assessment teams, with support from International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent, have reached some of the more remote affected communities in the north and are on their way to islands that have been completely cut off.

 

Miliana Nadoi Damu, 32, and her husband grow kava (yaqona) for a living and have lost both their home and their source of income thanks to Cyclone Yasa. Red Cross volunteers have been working tirelessly to reach people like Miliana to assess the damages and provide practical and emotional support, including distributing tarpaulins, shelter kits, hygiene supplies, clothing and water containers. In just seven days, teams have reached more than 5,500 people.

Tropical Cyclone Yasa left thousands of people in Vanua Levu and the outer islands without access to communication networks. Through its Restoring Family Links service, Red Cross teams have been connecting people separated from their loved ones by Cyclone Yasa with satellite phones. More than 140 families have been reconnected through Restoring Family Links so far.

Eparama and his father were one of the families reconnected through the service.

“I woke up yesterday to my phone ringing, it was [Red Cross], standing outside with my father speaking from the end of the line. My heart skipped with excitement, hearing their voices all safe and well.”

Photo: Fiji Red Cross

Access to shelter, food, and clean water, as well as minimising the risk of water-borne diseases are key priorities in the weeks to come, especially as it is still so early in the annual cyclone season. Red Cross teams are working with the National Disaster Management Office and other agencies to meet immediate needs as quickly and effectively as possible.