This is a continuation of The Eye of Tropical Cyclone Winston.

Sunday, 21 February, 2016
Volivoli Beach Resort, Rakiraki, Fiji

2:10 AM

Since I’m awake, I hope desperately that it is almost daylight. I look at my watch and it’s not even close. I try to fall back asleep and can’t. After a while I realize a trip to the bathroom is in order but I really don’t want to put my finally dry feet down into the swimming pool that our floor currently is. It’s a dilemma for a while until using the bathroom finally wins. While I’m in there I somehow manage to find my toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste under the mountain of belongings on the bathroom counter. Brushing my teeth never felt so good.

2:20 AM

I slosh over to the window as quietly as I can and try to see outside. It’s too dark to see anything. Some sick, curiosity inside of me is dying to see what the damage is. It’s like slowing down to drive past a car wreck, but on a much, much larger scale. I feel bad for wanting to see the damage because this is someone’s home. I haven’t lost anything. Someone else out there has lost everything. Countless others in fact.

6:02 AM

As soon as everyone else starts to stir, I am up. The sun is finally up. Well not really, it’s still grey and miserable and overcast, but at least it’s light out. I stumble to the balcony where Fletch, Mikaila, and Aaron are already standing. Everything is gone. Roofs, foliage, trees, gone. The view from our room has completely changed. Someone might as well have picked up our room and set it someplace else.

This is the view from our balcony pre-cyclone. I took this photo to send to the lady who knitted these wonderful shark slippers for me. 

This is the exact same shot after the cyclone.

6:10 AM

We open up the hallway door and are greeted by more water and mud and leaves. Everyone is venturing out of their rooms to survey the damage. For the most part everyone seems alright. One little girl has bandages above her eye. Her grandpa has his head and hand wrapped up. Everyone else appears to be shaken but unscathed.

6:15 AM

We carefully parked our car yesterday in the middle of the lot, as far away from anything falling over onto it as possible. We also parked it parallel to the slope of the hill, so that it wouldn’t be tempted to roll down and off the lot. The storm somehow turned it a full 90 degrees so that it is facing downhill now anyway. The hood is dented and one of the headlights is gone but aside from that it appears to be spotless. Other cars in the lot weren’t so lucky. Most windows are shattered and side mirrors are gone.

6:20 AM

Yesterday three massive, full water barrels sat at the top of the hill. The ones big enough to house a small family inside. One of the workers had been trying to secure them with a bit of rope. That didn’t work out so well because now all three of them are missing.

6:30 AM

We make our way down to the dining area where we were sitting just a few short hours ago. Half the building is gone. The other half is in sorry shape. The cyclone proof windows are still there. Someone finds some mops and brooms and starts handing them out. We bring them back up to our block and start trying to clean out our room as best we can. The two rooms on the end of our block lost their roof. The rest of us got lucky. 

Dining area the previous night when it started flooding.

Same shot of the dining area after the cyclone.

The room a couple of doors down from us.

7:15 AM

When the room is as free of water as we can manage, Fletch and I go to ask Nick about getting into the dive shop to find the first aid kit. He gives us the code and we make our way down the other path that leads to the beach from our room. At the end of the parking lot is a cement mixer than had been at the top of the hill. We pass the reception building. The roof over the attached apartment is gone. Upstairs was apparently one of the little girl’s rooms because pink bedding shows through. Down the hill to the side, someone’s home is completely destroyed. We pass the beachside bures. The front sides have been blasted away. One microwave looks relatively in tact. The massive trees down on the beach that just a day before had been in full bloom with beautiful, crimson red flowers are now bare and uprooted. One is laying on top of a tin-roofed building that has been squished to death. We clear all the branches obscuring the path with the help of some of the Fijian staff. The sand that covered the beach has eroded away and all that remains is rock. The dive shop is the only building that survived. Fletch and I find our way inside and secure the first aid kit.

Cement mixer that found its way down the hill.

Volivoli reception building.

Homes on the side of the hill completely destroyed.

Beach view bures. Not quite how they looked in the travel brochures...

The entire resort is a graveyard of uprooted trees and tin roofs. 

7:30 AM

More people are appearing on the beach at the dive shop, so we begin the process of clearing away all the trees and branches, trying to clear an area that we can use, and mostly just needing something to do. I grab one of the brooms and start sweeping all the rubble off of the tile floor covering the bar area, the same area I’d gone sliding across yesterday. Chairs and tables are brought out of the dive shop.

8:15 AM

The first aid kit doesn't have much, but we find Dettol, gauze, and a compressive wrap. I do my best to clean out Fletch's elbow wound without getting too squeamish. I think I can see his bone. No wonder my pre-med career only lasted one year.

8:30 AM

We've managed to clear a useable area around the dive shop. One of the Fijian staff starts bringing out trays of fruit and sandwiches. They are just cheese and tomato sandwiches, but they are cut neatly into triangles and someone has even gone through the trouble of cutting all the crusts off. Perhaps they just needed something to do like the rest of us, but the fact that someone has bothered to prepare food for a bunch of kaivalagi who haven’t lost anything, when none of the Fijians have heard from their families yet, makes me want to cry.

9:00 AM

Everyone recounts their stories of the previous night. The Australians were staying in the block below us. The whole block lost its roof. One minute they were all huddled in the bathrooms. The next they were looking up at the sky. I’m so glad we kept our roof. I’m not sure if I would have been able to hold it together otherwise.

9:15 AM

One of the Australian girls had dove underneath the bed when the roof went. The guy with her had leaned forward to see what she was doing. Right as he leaned forward a tree had come crashing through the window. He was unharmed only because he had leaned forward to see where she was going.

9:30 AM

There’s a lot of sitting around. We walk around and ogle at the damage. We sit. We take another lap around the ruins. 

View of the pool before the cyclone.
Same shot of the pool after the cyclone.

10:00 AM

There’s plenty of food to go around. Word spreads that lunch will be served at noon. There’s no running water, electricity, or cell signal. Fletch secures us a bucket which we fill with water wherever we can find it to pour down the toilet to flush it. We’re very lucky because all the water running down the gutters is crystal clear. Anywhere else it would probably be muddy scum water. There’s one barrel of filtered rain water for drinking at the end of our block. We’re basically camping. Considering the resort is destroyed, our situation is not nearly as bad as it could be. Everyone is safe and we still have shelter, food, and water. For now.

12:00 PM

The grill is still in working order so we get burgers for lunch. Fried egg on a bun with some veggies for the vegetarians. I still feel tremendously guilty for having the few Fijian staff who are left waiting on us as much as they are. Fletch is right. Give us some spear guns, show us where the the food that’s left in the kitchen is, and let these poor guys try to find their families.

2:30 PM

The sun comes out so Fletch and Aaron drag the mattresses outside to try and dry them out. Someone gives us permission to raid the laundry room that is still standing, so Mikaila and I go and find fresh sets of sheets. With any luck we’ll have a dry place to sleep tonight. That’s more than most people can say right now.

2:30 PM

Fletch and I decide to walk the access road to see what the damage is. We’ve already heard reports that there’s been a landslide, and the main road has washed away, but we’re wondering how difficult it would be to get to the main road. The Australian girl who hid under her bed last night comes with us. As we walk, she tells us about one of the locals who went home in the middle of the cyclone last night to find that his home was no longer there. So he gathered up his kids, I didn’t hear where they were hiding, and they slid back down the hill on their bellies, trying to get back to the resort for shelter. They made it to the reception, and that’s when he heard someone screaming for help. He left his kids in the reception office and went to see who needed help. The grandma of the kids who live there, she had flown in when the owner left to help the wife watch the kids. Now she was buried under a cement wall that had collapsed on her. He managed to dig her out and get her to safety in the middle of the cyclone while the rest of us were cowering in the bathrooms.

2:45 PM

Three massive, cement, electricity poles block the access road as far as the top of the hill. There won’t be an easy way out of here. At the top of the hill we can see some of the neighboring villages that are gone. Houses are completely destroyed, if they are still there at all. A few random little homes escaped the wrath of the storm. Off in the distance, the next resort over looks relatively in tact, just sheltered enough by the cove where they are hidden.

2:50 PM

At the top of the hill I am able to pick up a faint signal. It is just enough to send a message home that I am safe. I don’t know how much of this will make the news in the US. There’s probably too much hoopla about Donald Trump’s hair making the headlines for the stations to be bothered by a silly little cyclone wiping out a large part of a silly little country. But in the event any of these images do reach home, I have to let my mom know that I am safe and not buried under a building somewhere. It’s a long time before the message goes through, but eventually it does.

5:00 PM

No one is hungry by the time dinnertime rolls around. All we have been doing all day is seemingly eating all the kitchen’s food before it spoils. We may be stranded, but we are most certainly not starving. When we hear that the early dinnertime is so that the staff can all go home though, we are happy to oblige. Someone managed to get one of the dive boats out of hiding, so it has been making small trips all day for people to try to find their villages and families.

5:45 PM

A storm is forming on the horizon that looks to be a good one. We move back up the hill to bring in the last mattress. Remarkably there was enough sun today to dry it. We also change into our swimsuits in preparation for a freshwater shower.

6:00 PM

When the rain starts everyone runs outside. Several other guests all had the same idea and it sounds like a party. I turn back momentarily to grab a razor blade, then run out the door. Everyone is already out of view from the hallway, and I’m pretty sure they have gone to the right, but one of the locals says “shower?” and points me to the left. No one else is on this side of the building and a large barrel has been placed under the low point in the roof to collect rain water. Perfect. I even have the privacy to shave my legs.

6:30 PM

As dark approaches we round up the flashlights, then sit on the beds to play a game of Life on the iPad. Aaron and Mikaila were nice enough to make up the beds while we were out for a walk and they are miraculously dry and cozy. I am so grateful that we are all alive and safe, and have a dry place to sleep to boot.

7:30 PM

I can barely keep my eyes open enough to play the last round of the game. I think I win but I can’t be sure because I am already half asleep.

Monday

7:45 AM

We manage to sleep in somewhat and by the time we wake, rumors are floating around of a sea plane evacuation. When we head down to the dive shop area, we are alerted that we missed the meeting, but Simon finally managed to get a fain flicker of signal and used it to call the sea planes to come evacuate us. The injured grandparents and children will be taking the first plane out, and there are still three spots left on the last plane. Three spots for the four of us, so we will have to talk about what to do.

8:30 AM

We talk over breakfast. The first thought is to let one of the guys stay behind. I ask why we can't at least split up two and two, thinking then at least I might be able to stay with Fletch. Whether it's on the plane or here at the ruins of the resort, I don't really care, I just don't want to be separated after everything. Everyone agrees that two and two is a good plan, but that Mikaila and I should go ahead while Fletch and Aaron stay. I try to think of any argument against this that will sound reasonable and not selfish, but there isn't one. Mikaila and I will be heading back to Nadi on our own.

9:30 AM

The bathrooms down by the pool are still clean and functional, so we have gotten into the habit of using them and filling the trash bins up with water from the pool to flush them.

Anyone up for a dip in the pool?

10:30 AM

The past two days, all the little kids have been staying on our block. The owners kids, and the local ones who escaped from the village. They have been keeping themselves entertained by racing mops up and down our hallway, so while the rest of the resort is slowly crumbling into ruins, our hallway is squeaky clean thanks to the kids. I wish I was that entertained by mopping. It is time for the owner's kids to leave on the first seaplane. My heart breaks a little as one of the little girls asks her mom if their friends, the local kids, are coming with them. The world is cruel. Only the white kids get to leave.

11:30 AM

I am hanging wet clothes out to dry on the balcony when Simon walks by with good news. There is space on the next seaplane for us and we should be down at the dive shop at 12:30. I ask if that is for all of us or still just three of us. Simon confirms that all four of us get to leave. I am relieved.

12:00 PM

We are trying to pack up all of our things, leaving the wet stuff out to dry until the very last minute. Since this place will probably be bulldozed anyway, I help myself to the miniature french press in the room.

12:45 PM

We are sitting down at the dive shop, ready to go, but no sign of the seaplane yet. It likely has much more life-threatening evacuation trips to make.

1:30 PM

The seaplane finally arrives, an hour late. No one minds, we are just happy that we are leaving, alive and without having suffered any loss or injuries. As soon as I am in my seat, exhaustion takes over. Knowing that I am finally safe allows my energy to stop being fueled by adrenalin.

Seaplane Evacuation

1:45 PM

It is only a 30 minute ride to Nadi. We fly over the wreckage. It is devastating. This beautiful,  green, lush country is now bare and desolate. The neighboring resort didn't suffer any damage, but entire villages are wiped out. The farther away from Volivoli we fly, the better things look. I don't know what the damage in Nadi will be, but just 15 minutes away, things are already looking green again. Numerous waterfalls cascade down green, rolling hills. Fiji is still a beautiful country even after suffering the wrath of the largest cyclone ever recorded in the southern hemisphere.

I survived Cyclone Winston!