On February 20, 2016, Cyclone Winston, a category five tropical storm, tore through Fiji, leaving a path of destruction from the northern islands and eastern islands of Lau through to the main island of Viti Levu. Cyclone Winston was the strongest tropical storm to hit the country in history and one of the most powerful cyclones to ever hit the Southern Hemisphere. The storm inflicted extensive damage on 55,000 homes, caused 44 fatalities and rendered tens of thousands of people homeless.
The 500 people living on Taveuni, the third largest island in Fiji, experienced the cyclone’s full devastating force. Twenty-nine homes were impacted by the storm, 13 of which were completely destroyed. One resident of the island shared his experience:
“On February 19, we expected the storm to hit us at 5 p.m., but the storm arrived at 5 a.m.,” said Gabriele Josua. “People had no time to pack their things. My house was one of the evacuation centers – all the women and children were huddled into the master bedroom. It was a rather terrifying experience. . .”
But with great destruction comes hope and help from others. After the storm passed, Craig Powell, general manager at Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort & Spa, Yanuca Island, sent three waves of support to the island.
First, food and medical provisions were airlifted to the island. Then, from March 1 to March 14, two missions with groups of 16 volunteers each delivered additional food, tents, other provisions and, most importantly, man power. The first mission was led by Mereoni Mataika, CSR manager at the resort, and the second was led by Udo Wittich, resident manager, and Tara Hammond, CSR area manager of non-China properties.
“The journey was emotional as well as heart-wrenching for the team members to witness,” said Hammond.
Despite the havoc, according to Hammond, smiles and warm-hearted gestures were shared throughout the rebuilding process.
Along with help from volunteers and provisions delivered to the island, Greg Dogan, president and chief executive officer of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts called on the group’s properties to help fundraise for those in Fiji. The “Nanumi Viti,” or “Feel the Fiji,” campaign raised over US $55,000, which will go toward:
rebuilding a school on Salialievu estate, located on Taveuni, which lost four classrooms, a library and teachers’ quarters;
helping repair nearby schools such as Nadromai District Rural School and Sigatoka School for Special Needs;
building a community hall in Ura and Salialevu that will also serve as a shelter in the event of another natural disaster;
providing aid, assistance and house repairs to 23 Shangri-La colleagues;
and offering support to the less-fortunate.
The Shangri-La Golden Circle team also encouraged the group’s loyalty members to donate GC Award Points through the Fijian Red Cross. For every 1,000 GC Award Points donated, US $20 will be donated on behalf of Shangri-La to support relief efforts in the rural Rakiraki region.
We would like to thank Craig Powell, Mereoni Mataika, Udo Wittich, Tara Hammond, the staff and volunteers who helped on the missions, and our colleagues around the world who rallied to help those in need. We hope for a quick and safe recovery for all those affected by the tropical storm.