Sunday, 21 February 2016

Worst Cyclone on Record in Southern Hemisphere Lashes Fiji


My fellow Fijians,

Yesterday, Tropical Cyclone Winston – the most devastating storm on record in the Southern Hemisphere -- reached our shores. The damage has been widespread. Homes have been destroyed, many low-lying areas have flooded and many people have been left stunned and confused about what to do.

In the aftermath of this great tragedy, many are without power and full access to water, and are cut off from communication. My Government is working overtime to repair the damage that has been caused and restore these essential services to our people. In the task of recovery and rebuilding, our public utilities, Government agencies and the private sector are working to re-establish our communications, and bring back access to power and water throughout our islands. Particular emphasis will be placed on re-connecting our Eastern Division to our national grid so we can urgently assess and address the damage in our maritime regions.

We are also working hard to keep the Fijian people as updated as possible on the restoration process. In some cases, the electric power has been intentionally cut off in order to prevent more severe damage. When we are able, we will provide timelines for the return of water and power so that people can plan in the short-term for how best to care for themselves. 

While this work is being completed, the curfew will remain in effect until 5:30 am today (tomorrow). The curfew has been imposed to protect lives and property, and it is vital that everyone respect the curfew—for your safety and the safety of your loved ones. Please disregard any reports that the curfew has been lifted. The Department of Information is the only authorized and reliable source of information for updates on the curfew.

It is also vital that everyone remain in their homes while Government carries out the important work of repairing and restoring our critical infrastructure. There is still a great deal of debris on our roads and in our communities: Power lines have gone down all over the country, and roofing iron, glass, live electrical wires and other hazardous materials pose serious threats to public safety.

We are working hard to make your streets and communities secure once again, but that will take time, so I ask you for your patience during this time of crisis – especially for those of you in rural and maritime regions.

Fijians who have lost their homes and property have been sheltered in evacuation sites while Government explores how to best care for you over the long term. As was recently announced, schools will be closed for the next week, so many of these buildings can continue to be used as safe havens.

Our roads have, for the most part, not suffered severe damage, and many have already been cleared. However, there is still much work to be done clearing substantial debris from the rest of our roadways, and the Fiji Roads Authority is working with other agencies and volunteers to get all of our roads operational.

Our armed forces and Fiji Police force have also been engaged to assist with rehabilitation, rescue operations and clean-up. They will work alongside other agencies to make sure this work is completed efficiently so that Fijians can return to their normal lives as soon as possible.

In the meantime, I urge every Fijian to stay mindful of your surroundings and stay indoors. There is no telling whether this cyclone is gone for good – so we need to act accordingly. That is why it is important that you adhere to instructions from Government and avoid dangerous situations. 

This is a time of sorrow, but it will also be a time of action. We will stand united in the face of this disaster. Please, if see your neighbor struggling, help if you are able. If you see a dangerous situation, report it. And keep your fellow Fijians in your prayers as we, together, overcome this tragedy.

I know that for those of you who have lost your homes, your livelihoods or are cut-off from essential services, it is hard to imagine a brighter future. But that future will come. We will reclaim what we have lost. I call once again for every Fijian to remain committed to work together during our recovery efforts, follow instructions from Government carefully, and do what you can to keep yourselves out of harm’s way.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you. 

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