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Grandmother Virisila Marama is about to do her laundry when a call from her neighbour makes her drop everything and run out to the road.
The 86-year-old, from the remote Serea village in the east of the island of Viti Levu, scrambles under a barbed wire fence and onto a muddy track, waving at the Fiji Red Cross volunteers parked 100 metres away.
When the young men and women reach her, she clutches the hand of one of them, tears streaming down her face.
“When I saw the truck I was so relieved. I’m crying because I’m very happy to see you."
One month ago, Virisila’s house was badly damaged by Cyclone Winston, the strongest tropical storm ever experienced in Fiji.
As members of the Red Cross team erect a tent for Virisila and her grandchildren to sleep in, others stack emergency aid inside the ruined house; a shelter toolkit, personal hygiene items, water, mosquito repellent, clothes, blankets and sheets.
In the month since Cyclone Winston cut a swathe through Fiji, Red Cross has delivered emergency relief to over 40,000 people. According to Fiji Red Cross operations manager, Eseroma Ledua, the needs of affected people are still great.
“We had pre-positioned stocks placed around Fiji, which helped in the first few days but more is needed. We hope that by the end of April we will have reached all of the worst hit families.”
The category five storm killed 44 when it made landfall on 20 February, destroying entire villages and damaging crops and infrastructure. According to the government, an estimated 32,000 homes were left damaged or destroyed.
“In some villages there are only three houses left standing. Many villages don’t have any toilets or clean water. Our priority for the next month is shelter, but we are also concentrating on ensuring that communities have clean water and adequate sanitation,” explained Mr. Ledua.
A psychosocial support delegate from New Zealand Red Cross has so far provided support and training to volunteers from eight of the 15 Fiji Red Cross branches. They in turn are providing emotional support to affected people in their own communities.
Mr Ledua feels this support is much needed.
“What they have been through is huge. They are still in shock, and the enormity and trauma of the disaster is still sinking in. Our volunteers are a sympathetic ear, and often that is all people need – someone to talk to.”
Fiji Red Cross has 160 staff and volunteers working on the response to Cyclone Winston.
It’s estimated 350,000 people have been affected in some way by the cyclone. Fiji Red Cross, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), is aiming to reach 38,500 of the worst affected with emergency relief and support for their longer term recovery.