CYCLONE HAROLD in KADAVU: Our Story

It’s the 9th April 2020 and I am sat writing this, the first blog of my new website, in the open doorway of Alfie’s Uncle’s house in Lomanikoro village, Nakasaleka, Kadavu, Fiji. The reason I am sat here, and not in our own house, is because Cyclone Harold came yesterday and it ripped the village to pieces; whilst we were lucky enough to have only lost some of the glass in our windows, have our outside kitchen blown away and the inside mats ripped and broken, I can look both directions out of this doorway and see people’s roofs scattered on the floor, a detached and dented water tank floating in the river and piles of splintered wood and rubble where people’s homes, that once stood strong and were full of memories, have been totally destroyed.

For those of you who do not know me, or for those of you who do know me but haven’t seen any recent updates on social media, I am a 22 year old British woman called Emma who came to Fiji to lead youth development volunteer projects. However, due to the outbreak of COVID 19, both my contract and my boyfriend Alfie’s contract were terminated with immediate effect and so we are currently living, jobless, in his home village in Kadavu. For the past week and a half, we have been living the proper island village life; Alf has been working on the farm and doing community work, I have been baking and cooking all the classics (babakau, dhal with tinned fish, panikeke, doughnut balls etc.) and we have both been enjoying fishing in the clear turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean, spotting turtles and sharks along the way (although Alfie didn’t like seeing the shark on Tuesday because it scared away all the yellow-fin tuna meaning we didn’t catch any, but that’s a story for a different day). I have also been creating this website so I can share all these stories, which I will still do over time, but sadly, today’s blog is not a tale of happiness and paradise, but a tale of destruction and a reality check on how tropical natural disasters can really affect the more vulnerable areas of the world.

It starts with me waking up at about 7:00am on the 8th April to the sound of heavy rain on the roof and a loud banging noise. Alfie wasn’t next to me and the room was dark, the natural light being blocked by a big sheet of corrugated metal tin that had been nailed over the window. I came out of the room to an empty house and looked out to see the village boys, including Alfie and his older brother Ilaisa, working in the pouring rain nailing more metal over the windows, preparing for the cyclone which we had been told would hit Kadavu around midday. Feeling a bit helpless, I put on my headtorch (as the lights from our solar panel weren’t working) and got busy making breakfast: english pancakes and steamed condensed milk cake with white icing. The boys were coming in and out, grabbing nails and planks of wood and delivering cassava and breadfruit for us to eat. Wise, otherwise know as Paka, Alfie’s cousin brother, had his music playing loudly through his speaker, a mixture of island reggae remixes and Bob Marley, and Lucky, his dog, was sheltering from the rain with me in the kitchen. Whilst I was flipping the pancakes, the door opened and in ran a chicken followed by Alfie, who just shouted, “for lunch” and then he disappeared again. Both Paka and Lucky ran for the chicken, but within seconds, the chicken was dead and Paka popped it in a bucket and placed it with the food supply – something the British part of me still finds quite fascinating, particularly from being a past pescatarian but also from being used to buying my meat from the supermarket, plucked and packed and ready to go. 

By about 11:30, all the boys were inside and nailing the door shut with a final plank of wood. As I watched out of the window, the winds started to pick up and the rain was getting heavier. A flock of birds could be seen in the distance, being thrown up in the air by the storm, then plummeting towards the ground before being swooped up to the left and over the rolling hills. The roof was clattering and the windows were shaking but it was fine…then it started getting scary. 

The winds grew stronger. There was a crash and the metal sheets were ripped off the windows. Rain started rushing in and a few of the glass panes slipped out and smashed on the floor. The boys were desperately trying to cover the windows and keep the door nailed closed but the cyclone was too strong. I hid in the bedroom, peering round the door, shouting at the boys to come in too as it was safe in there but they, being classic Fijian boys, were all laughing and skipping around barefoot in the broken glass. Paka, who was pressed up against the dresser, blocking a window as the wind was whipping around the room and ripping down the curtains, said calmly, “Everything is ok, Emma”. Outside, the world was white, rain pummelling the nearby houses as branches, tin and housing structures flew past in every direction. Trees were bending almost fully in half and the sound was deafening. Two of Alfie’s elder relatives, Tutu Taitusi and Bubu Merewai ran into our house for shelter as their roof was ripped off. After some persuasion, I managed to get Alfie into the room with me and we hid under a mattress, waiting for it to be over.

About 3 hours after it arrived, the cyclone calmed down a little and some of the men began to venture out. For about an hour, Alf disappeared and I began to worry. What I didn’t know is that he had just gone to check on his little brother and other family members but had got caught in the rain so stayed in their house until he was able to leave. In my mind, he had fallen in the flooded river or been crushed by a tree or been hit by a flying spike of wood. So I, being the anxious worrier that I am, sat terrified and in tears, still hiding from the continuing storm, absolutely certain that he was dead and refusing to leave the house until he returned home. The cyclone finished, and of course, Alfie did return home. After floods of tears and me telling him he was never allowed to scare me like that again, we packed up our stuff and went to his Uncle’s house next door.

The village was in ruins. The hills, that were once full of trees and plantations, were baron and bare. The river, normally clear and fresh, was muddy and flooding over the stone walls and around the houses. The nature had been battered and broken. Dogs were sheltering under the remains of family homes, surrounded by furniture that was in pieces on the floor. Chickens were picking their way around the sites with their chicks, pecking at the food that was spilt in the grass. Thankfully, however, no one was hurt.

I’ll tell you something though, and this is why the people of this country never fail to amaze me. Not once did I see a tear shed for the fallen houses. Not once did I see people giving up or in despair. The strong, resilient, brave and wonderful people of Nakasaleka were still smiling and laughing. As we walked around the village, children were jumping into the gushing river, being swooped down in the surging water and then grabbing the branch of a fallen tree, clambering out and doing it again. Families sat together chatting, waving at us and inviting us in for tea. I walked past one man, and he said “Bula Emma, how’s the weather?” followed by a hearty chuckle and he wandered off. The sky cleared and became a beautiful collage of darkening blue and pink clouds as the sun began to set.

To my disbelief, the flooding cleared within about ten minutes and when I questioned this, Alfie’s Auntie told me that the village nearest the sea will have blown into a conch shell. She explained that their sacred God is the God of rain and whenever there is a flood, they blow into the shell and it will clear within minutes. Normally, this sort of story would seem unbelievable but I truly can’t think of any other explanation because honestly, the water that was up to peoples knees just disappeared into thin air. 

Never did I expect to experience something like this. Being from England, you only ever really see this sort of stuff on news channels. Living the real thing was scary but incredibly grounding and made me realise how lucky we are in England to be mostly totally safe from natural disasters. The endless positivity from the villagers has been a saving grace for everyone and I am truly grateful that I have all these amazing people around me during this time. Nevertheless, tough times are ahead, there are many things that need to be fixed and it may be very difficult to get the supplies to fix them. I have no doubt that people will try their best and I pray that God will give us strength and look after us all in these testing times. 

You can donate to help Nakasaleka village through this fundraising link here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/cycloneharoldnakasaleka?utm_term=5yJbmyxEq

Vinaka, thank you for reading and please share on Social Media!

47 thoughts on “CYCLONE HAROLD in KADAVU: Our Story

  1. Emma I am more than delighted that you and Alfie and all your family and friends are safe and well.
    What an overwhelming experience. Oh My !!!!!
    Thank you for sharing it with everyone.
    How wonderful to be living with such good and positive people. Long my you enjoy it.
    Is there any way I could help, maybe a silly question but I want to ask any way.
    Thank you so much for you open and honest story. Take care lots of love.x x

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  2. Love this thank you, my dad is from Nokoronowa across the bridge. I live in Brisbane Australia, and are worried about my family there the Soqeta’s. Please keep us updated this is amazing. I also have family in Lagalevu plus we have 2 houses there which I think have been ruined but we are waiting on confirmation and photos. Stay safe xx

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  3. Thank you so much Emma for sharing your experience, here am i reading your story and reminded by my childwood back in the yasawa facing the same situation during hurricane season.I now leaving in Melbourne for the last 35 years and never forget the experience in which we people of Fiji face year after years during hurricane season.Thank you for sharing God bless you and its my prayer that you and Alfie enjoying your stay in that paradise of Kadavu , loloma from Melbourne Australia .

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  4. Thank you Emma for your testimony in having experience the trauma which I believe you will never forget in life. As I read through, I felt the same for the families whose livelihood had been devastated, the rebuilding that they will have to go through. How much longer will they survive with what’s left in the soil?? My prayer is that, when all else fails, there is a source which I believe, who will never fail, and HE is none other day than GOD the creator of heaven and earth, HE will never fail. More so in biblical history GOD sends plagues when the Israelites disobeyed HIM. I believe this is an opportune time for the people of KADAVU to repent of our sins and sincerely turn in humility to GOD. Trust GOD to do a better rebuilding both physically and spiritually Emma.May the LORD use you In a mighty way whilst you’re there in Nakaseka in the Island of KADAVU.

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  5. Lovely story indeed Emma. That is the beauty of a Fijian culture. The Big Bula smile and the optimistic ways Fijian live their life always amazes foreigners. You’re being blessed to not only be here in Fiji but also experience what our people have to offer in any weather condition. Happy People! Happy Life!

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  6. Praying you’re all safe 🇫🇯💙 here in Suva We weren’t hit that badly … so reading your experience my heart goes out to all of you. Much love 💙

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  7. Vinaka Emma, thank you for your blog post, so great to hear from anyone in Kadavu right now. My Uncle and family are in Navuatu Village and they’re pretty devastated but in true Fijian fashion – everything is ok! Glad you’re all safe and there was no loss of life. Take care and stay safe.

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  8. Firstly thank you to the both of you for the work you were doing there . Reading your story I felt your fear as everything was tumbling around you , however as I read further for you to have seen and experience the resilience and the MANA of the VANUA Nakasaleka i Tiliva Koroivabea Vunimatatolu vuwa na Tuni Vabea is indeed a privilege. A privilege in the meaning that it is not your everyday thing . I know this is a story that you will share to your kin in many years to come . God bless .

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  9. Bula Emma, This is such a beautiful story for such a tragic Event… I’m glad you’re well and safe..
    Love and prayers from Suva
    God Bless and Blessed Easter
    Josh

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  10. Very sad in did,,i am reading your storycriggt here in the Middle East and can vivdly remember all those experiebce you went through,,being born n bred in Nakasaleka really made me crying seeing those fotos you posted with your stories .Its the Nabala never say die attitude stood strong in those kind of situation,,,,,,WELCOME TO THE KAIVIJI WORLD where they never worry about anything tommorow as everything is on Fiji Time, GB Jay Nareki Egypt

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  11. Emma that is Kadavu and that is normal to the Kadavu people and having you there over gone the scene and reading the experience that you went through really shed tears in me as i remember the last Cyclone that ripped off our house as if it was just yesterday and we had to hid under the bed all through out the scene and once the cyclone was over we started our cleaning and laughing away as if nothing happened.

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  12. Omg I remember you two!!!!

    I had taken my boy out for a walk at Albert Park in Suva when I noticed you both arrive at the park. You looked like you had alot on your shoulders but Alfie ( excuse my boldness and addressing him by name) looked so determined to reassure you!!!!

    I remember musing over what brought you to Fiji but more importantly why you hadnt left like so many other expatriates had in the midst of the pandemic!!!

    Im sooo glad to have found your blog and look forward to reading more of your adventures in our great nation!!

    Take comfort in the positives and above all remain grateful!!!

    xxx

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  13. Bula vinaka Emma when I was 16 on holiday in Nauciwai Yale Kadavu in 1958 I experience what you went through but not really that dangerous. I now live in London and have been here 58 since 1961.I sympathise with you and your comments really brings back moments like that when I was at home in Tailevu.We are all praying for you here as we are on Lock Down and in a way suffering the same death defying problem.Food and other home and personal needs are hard to come by as most Shops Churches etc closed.Supermarkets are open but queues are a mile long and only take minimal amount at any one time.Thanks for the Update and please keep it coming.Our prayers and very kind regards to the village especially to your family on this Easter Good Friday.Muru kalougata tiko na veiwatini.

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    1. Bula vinaka Naibuka! Its Apenisa Nabainivalu here. Do you remember me from RKS? I live in Australia and have been to London a few times. Didnt know you were still there

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  14. My name : Ana Vuiyale Manaseitava
    Vasu: Nakoronawa, Nakasaleka
    Wow what an experience 😥😥
    Regards to families: Bulou Vuta, TuCavei, n Joe Gus
    Stay safe n God bless us all
    Happy Easter ❤️❤️🙏🙏🙏

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  15. Brought tears to my eyes…thank you for the story..well worded…thank you for the positivity ..for the people, their culture and the truth about resilience that our people have but for westerners may seem weird and uncouth at times…God bless you.

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  16. Bula vinaka Emma,
    Thank you for your enriching read. I taught at kadavu provincial sec school. Now I am teaching in New Zealand. I always get my motivation from the people in Yavulu when thing get though.

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  17. Thank for your post. My Children are from Nakoronawa but live in Brisbane. God bless Nakasaleka and the Fiji has.

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  18. Well done Emma, Thankyou for this. I have been married to Ben from Nalotu Village Yawe district in Southern Kadavu. I lived there briefly after we had our first child and have visited many more times over the years, so know what you are talking about re the resilience of these people. Keep blogging please

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  19. People from the islands are so positive they have so little but are so rich in their faith & love for their families & their endless smiles with whatever happens You are very privileged to share their ways & happiness I pray everyone’s homes aren’t too long being rebuilt

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  20. Vinaka Emma thank you for the updates.. Loves to all my family and vasu there and hope we can get some supplies over there quick. My mum Stella Oconnor is from Lagalevu.

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  21. Hi it was nice reading your blog and i feel sorry for all the people of Nalasaleka. I lived there for 9 years as a school teacher and offcourse I taught Alf and I’ve never come across a tc there but I’m also feeling for all of you out there. My prayers go out to all of you and send my warmest regards to the people. Moce.

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  22. Wow so devastating TC HAROLD… but you’re so true… the resilience and love of the Fijian people is unbelievable… loved your story Emma.. I had to read til the end… kept me hungry for the next line 😊😊. Cheers Gracy

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  23. Wow! You are a brave lass Emma. As you said, you’re lucky to be surrounded by people who care and love you. I amazed…leaving your good home in the UK and decided to live in a small village in Nakasaleka, Kadavu with someone you really love. Alfie is a lucky man to have someone like you. May God bless you and Alfie

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  24. Vinaka Emma. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Humbled and enlighten by your story. Muru kalougata jiko.

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  25. Having a friend, Vilisi Tawake who also has a family home on Kadavu this connected me closely,to,your story and I,thank you for thentelling of it.
    Like with Vilisi, and also,Josaia Nuidamu from Matawailevu, Ra, I realise once again through your story a pattern of flying roofs, disintergrating houses, for the walls need a roof to cling to, and we the reader maybe a hint of compassion to turn into a solution to prevent, if possible, a reccurence.
    Strapping roofs seems at least a partial answer.
    Cookes Ropes, a UK Company renowned for hawsers to tether all manner of vessels to the quay.
    They have moved from rope, to steel and now to kevlar, yes the material,lining bullet proof vests, and what protected myself on a journey from Heathrow to New York on Concorde, post the Paris accident, the planes makers had lined the fuel tanks with kevlar.
    So now I am trying to excite some common sense activity , Money, so that in the rebuilding, kevlar strapes, very very strong and light weight can be used as a clear, forwarned, forearmed, principle.
    Your story should be added to the mix, in the hope, that restoration beginning now, applies common sense and the funding necessary to properly re construct.
    So that KADAVU can become the legend CANDO….vinaka vaka levu…..

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  26. We, in Canada, think we are hard done by because we have to stay at home to stop the virus spreading but we are so lucky compared with you, Emma. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to you. Stay safe. Newton

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  27. Emma, I am thankful that no lives was taken, thank God for that.
    For you to experience that hurricane hit Kadavu, I believe it must have taught you to be like one of us and live like one.
    This is how we Fijians live. You said that you saw happy faces, no tears, during and after the struck of Tc Harold, well I believe that is the medicine Fijians have taught themselves to keep whenever they go through hardships.
    You are a strong woman Emma.

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  28. Hi Emma my name is GAIL i can relate to your story but my experience was quite a long time back it was in 1999 myself ,husband and my son were staying at the WARWICK RESORT AT KOROLEVU in the November and had a pretty bad cyclone ,naturally we were a bit on edge but all staff made you feel more at ease as they just went through there day as usual .But they are used to these ,and they just went on with their usual rouitine .We were all aloud to stay in our room until the eye of it then we had to move out int the hallways and they bought us cakes ,coffee,tea ,but my son was really upset because there was a HUGE AFRICAN TULIP TREE and it had a fijian parrot with babies and he said they will get killed but I said to him they will be right that tree and survived many a cyclones ,and had been told the story that when the resort was built around it but to my surprise it went it was so big ,then we seen the restaurant on the water they have there called the WICKED WALU the roof went ,then the stoves everything was just flying up the beachfront which was pretty scary ,after when it all was coming to an end it looked like a war zone .I am so glad to hear that no one was hurt there that is the worry .Well I had bet to shut up as feel like I am writing you a novel ,but my girlfriend just came back from over there on the 15 th March we have been going every year forty Years and we love it there .It was so good to read your story .Like to hear more of your experiences sorry for the damage they have they have suffered they are such beautiful people so you and Alfie and all the rest take care be safe .

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  29. Bula Emma-
    Thank you for your story. My mother is from Naceva Kadavu and l grew up in Kadavu when my father was working in Vunisea Govt Station.We were there when Hurricane Bebe hit Kadavu in the 70s and l can related to your story. Thank God that everyone is safe and hope that assistances and rehabilitation will be coming soon to the islands 🌴 Prayers coming your way and have a blessed Easter.🙏🙏🙏🥰

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  30. Very touching indeed….great testimony to everyone. May God continue to protect your family and the people of Kadavu. ..🙏🙏💕💕peace be with you Emma.

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  31. Thank you for sharing Emma! I am glad you are all okay. My good friend is from Kadavu and I am so grateful to have someone to let us know what happened and how you felt because that is so so important. Lots of love and take care!! ❤

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  32. Thanks Emma,

    I always stand by the statement of everything happens for a reason. And disasters, way I see it, is a way God communicate to his people to warn them from the ungodly and immoral lives they embracing, inorder to turn to Him so He can save them from eternal damnation.

    In 2016 a category 4 tropical cyclone struck Fiji and devastated parts of Fiji. It wreaked havoc in the Lomaiviti group with a sole reason to cleanse the villages from immoral and ungodly behaviour and yes it was a turning point to most of the villagers. Infidelities and all night serenading with numerous fijian singing groups originating from the group that have marked a downward spiral from the Christian way of life that should be upheld as almost all villages have strong Christian roots.

    In Kadavu, an island that is so rich with it’s history together with it’s Christian links like any other villages in Fiji, have been contaminated with the planting, harvesting and selling of marijuana in Fiji. It’s been lately ranked the number 1 hotbed of marijuana planting, cultivation and circulation throughout Fiji and other nearby countries. This is a recipe of adverse effects to the island thus attracting such disasters to awaken the people of Kadavu from this enemy which have stained their fabric of life that Kadavu is renowned for.

    Such ordeals is not news to ordinary biblical observing Fijians but onus is lessons learnt, repentance and to be right with God coz if hearts are hardened rather than soften then it’s just a trigger to a domino effect for catastrophe and cataclysmic events to follow.

    Evil is just a created tool to awakened creations to acknowledge their Maker.

    Sa I Kadavu na yanuyanu ni sautu.

    Sa jekia…

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