27 February 2016
Combat engineers from the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) have brought a ray of hope to residents of Driti, an idyllic seaside village about 50 km north of the Fijian capital Suva that had been turned into a virtual wasteland by Tropical Cyclone Winston.
“I can’t believe it when my five-year-old daughter told me that New Zealand soldiers have come to help our village. I rushed out and true enough, the Kiwis were clearing the fallen trees and removing other debris,” 45-year-old housewife Usenia Nemai said.
“I’m thankful and very happy that they have come to help us. Without them, it would have taken us more than a month to clean up.”
A team of 25 engineers from the NZDF and the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) have been deployed to Driti to help clean up trees felled by the massive storm and rebuild schools and homes that were destroyed.
Driti was one of many villages directly in Cyclone Winston’s path and bore the brunt of its destructive power. The category five cyclone, which left a trail of destruction when it ripped through Fiji on 20 February, smashed up to 90 per cent of homes, schools and other buildings in the village, said Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) Simione Kanarogo of the RFMF.
Many power poles had been knocked down while others are bent in half. Trees had been stripped of their leaves by the sheer force of the storm and lay like matchsticks strewn across the landscape. Dawsamu District School and Dawsamu Kindergarten have been ravaged by the cyclone and are closed for at least three weeks.
By the time the cyclone moved, Nemai’s two-bedroom home had been reduced to a heap of firewood.
“My husband and I huddled with our five kids in one bedroom. We braced for the worst but until the storm ripped the roof over our heads and knocked over the entire house, we had no idea how horrifying it could be. We were scared and we ran as fast as we could to my parents’ house nearby,” she said.
Fijian officials have welcomed New Zealand’s assistance, including the NZDF contribution, to the disaster relief and recovery efforts.
“It’s been about 11 years since New Zealand soldiers have been to Fiji. It’s great working with them again. I am glad they are back,” said WO2 Kanarogo, who trained as a field engineer at the New Zealand Army’s Linton and Waiouru military camps.
Corporal (CPL) Glenn Hayes, an engineer from the New Zealand Army’s 2nd Field Squadron, said the Fijian soldiers were “well-motivated hard workers”.
“This is the first overseas deployment for some of our engineers and sappers so it has been a great learning experience for them. Partnering with other militaries is an opportunity to learn about other cultures and adapt to new ways of working,” CPL Hayes said.
View footage featuring the team of engineers from the NZDF and the Republic of Fiji Military Forces who have been deployed to Driti village along the northern coast of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island, to help clean up trees felled by Tropical Cyclone Winston and rebuild schools and homes that were destroyed.