Survivor returns Fijians’ support

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A woman who survived a cyclone in a small Fijian village and the Waitaki Resource Recovery Park are banding together to create infrastructure in the community that helped her through her ordeal.
Chelsea Turner (19), of Timaru, was in the village of Uluibau, on the island of Moturiki, working as a teacher when Cyclone Winston struck in February.
She had a front-row seat to the destruction the category 5 cyclone wrought on the local community.
“It started as a a category 3 and in a couple of hours, it turned to category 5,” she said.
“They lost basically everything: their homes, their crops, their water system. They were left pretty desperate, and in that type of society, they don’t have insurance or any money backup.”She sheltered with the rest of the village in the most secure concrete structure the community had.
“During the worst of it, I thought we weren’t going to make it out. I wrote a letter to my mum and dad.”The wind was going 225kmh outside and entire buildings were being picked up and blown away, she said.
The building she was in had its roof lifted up.
“The Fijians, they’re amazing. I started crying. They said, `Don’t cry, Chelsea. If we’re going to die, we’re going to die laughing.’ They were great. They kept me calm. Through the worst of it, they were singing, laughing, praying.”Once the storm subsided and it was safe for people to go outside, the true damage of the cyclone could be assessed, Miss Turner said.
The aftermath looked like a disaster movie, she said.
To help the community that kept her safe, her family company, Timaru-based Grafton Irrigation, and the Waitaki Resource Recovery Park are sending a container of basic gear to help rebuild the village’s infrastructure.
Park manager Dave Clare said the recycling centre was donating kitchen sinks from the former RSA building in Oamaru’s Itchen St.
“We have offered help in the past to the Fiji and Tongan communities.”Miss Turner said New Zealand had quite a large Pasifika community, and something like rebuilding basic infrastructure was a way to show the country’s Pacific neighbours they were cared for.
“They’re very much part of our culture.”The container of gear leaves for Fiji on June 24.