By Linda Unger*
Va, a graduate of Davuilevu Theological College of the Methodist Church in Fiji, serves as a chaplain for high school students at a Methodist school. This is her home after Cyclone Winston. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jerusha and Wesley Neal
February 25, 2016—After Cyclone Winston, a category 5 Severe Tropical Cyclone, struck Fiji last weekend, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is reaching out to its partners, including the Methodist Church in Fiji, to provide relief to those impacted by the storm on the island nation.
Jack Amick, assistant secretary general for UMCOR International Disaster Response said in an email that UMCOR, together with its partners, is seeking “to develop appropriate responses to this disaster.”
Cyclone Winston was one of the most severe storms ever to hit the South Pacific, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). It pounded Fiji, an archipelago of more than 300 islands, on February 20-21.
With a landfall wind speed of 185 m.p.h., according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, only Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) had higher winds, at 190 m.p.h., when it devastated the Philippines in 2013.
At least 42 people died during Cyclone Winston, and some 35,000 are sheltering in evacuation centers. The storm damaged or destroyed 97 schools and completely destroyed all crops in the areas most heavily impacted, OCHA reported.
UMCOR, which is part of the General Board of Global Ministries, has been in touch with Global Ministries missionaries Wesley and Jerusha Neal, who, with their two children, serve with the people of Fiji.
In a letter, the Neals, who both teach at the Davuilevu Theological College of the Methodist Church in Fiji, reported that the storm destroyed homes, downed power lines, and interrupted the water supply.
“But most of the hardest hit areas are still out of cell phone contact, and that has been one of the most difficult things for our students,” the Neals wrote. “Many have family members in villages that stood in harm’s way, but have been unable to confirm their safety.”
They said they hoped the flood waters would crest soon so that cleanup could begin in earnest for those living on the river banks.
At Davuilevu, where the missionaries live, they said, many of the roads are now passable, shops with generators are open for business, and groceries and bottled water are available.
“But we know that these luxuries are not the case in much of Fiji. Please pray for communications lines to be restored and food and water shortages to be ended. Most importantly,” the Neals said, “pray for the many, many families that no longer have a home in which to stay during this rainy week.”
Your gifts to UMCOR International Disaster Response, Advance #982450, will support UMCOR’s response to Cyclone Winston and other natural and human-caused disasters.
*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.