19 – 22 April 2013

December 16 - NASA’s Aqua satellite image as Cyclone Evan spirals over Vanua Levu and Viti Levu.

December 16 – NASA’s Aqua satellite image as Cyclone Evan spirals over Vanua Levu and Viti Levu.

The 17th of December 2012 will forever be etched in the minds and hearts of Fijians and the memory is unfortunately not a good one. With a maximum wind speed of 270km/hour, Cyclone Evan devastated many villages from northeast Vanua Levu all the way to northwest Viti Levu with more than 8,000 people taking refuge in evacuation centres.

Two brothers still live in this house. Cyclone Evan mercilessly went through Yadua Village and this leaning house is one of the casualties from the category 5 cyclone.

Two brothers still live in this house. Cyclone Evan mercilessly went through Yadua Village and this leaning house is one of the casualties from the category 5 cyclone.

The only village in Yadua, a tiny remote island towards the west end of Vanua Levu in the Bua Province, was one of the most damaged that we saw during this expedition (and we saw some quite intense cyclone damage all throughout the Macuata Province from Mali, Kavewa, Nukusa, Kia and Nukubati Islands topside and quite sadly, damage underwater as well in the Great Sea Reef).  The story from Yadua Villagers goes that the winds started at 10pm of December 16th. Cyclone Evan blew and wreaked havoc all the way till 12 noon of the 17th. Everybody from the village evacuated to the concrete school building situated on higher grounds by the hill. The entire row of houses nearest the sea were blown away.

Michael and Milliana Divuna lost their large traditional beachfront bure home during Cyclone Evan.

Michael and Milliana Divuna lost their large traditional beachfront bure home during Cyclone Evan.

Michael and Milliana Divuna owned a big, beautiful traditional house or bure by the sea which was blown away by Evan. They are now living in a made-up shack while they wait for the government housing to finish. Michael, who is in his 60’s said that in the 1940’s when he was young, the coastline was 3 to 4 rows of houses from his present house. Milliana added that they got married in 1983. When she arrived from mainland Vanua Levu to live in Yadua, the houses were 2 rows from where their house used to be. The seaside was much farther then. Their house was built on the third row from beachfront and through the years their house slowly became beachfront. And now those houses have been blown away, the edge of the coast is again encroaching further inland. In Michael’s lifetime, this was the third cyclone that hit Yadua directly but Cyclone Evan was by far the strongest. Here are some images of the evident strength of the last cyclone.

Bua River lined with massive acacia trees that will one day fall due to erosion. This river leading out to sea towards Yadua Island was one of the paths of Cyclone Evan.

Bua River lined with massive acacia trees that will one day fall due to erosion. This river leading out to sea towards Yadua Island was one of the paths of Cyclone Evan.

Coconut palm tree close to toppling over from Cyclone Evan and from constant coastal erosion and rising sea levels.

Coconut palm tree close to toppling over from Cyclone Evan and from constant coastal erosion and rising sea levels. 

This is what's left of a wooden boat caused by category 5 Cyclone Evan.

This is what’s left of a wooden boat caused by category 5 Cyclone Evan.

1996 picture of pre-cyclone Yadua Village when a row of traditional beachfront bure were still intact.

1996 picture of pre-cyclone Yadua Village when a row of traditional beachfront bure were still intact.

There was a general feeling of sadness in Yadua Village – a feeling of fatigue and having to start all over again to lift the village from the cyclone’s catastrophic damage. Four months after the cyclone has passed, the village is still in limbo, waiting for the government’s housing project to finish so people who totally lost their homes can finally move in and begin their lives anew. Our visit was made doubly sadder when an elderly woman, who had been sick for a while, died while we were there. Her funeral was immediately organised and the whole community came together to prepare the funeral meal after the Sunday church service.

Yadua Village women prepare and cook freshly caught land crabs for a funeral community feast.

Yadua Village women prepare and cook freshly caught land crabs for a funeral community feast.

Yadua Village men prepare and cook on an open fire the freshly caught fish for a funeral community feast.

Yadua Village men prepare and cook on an open fire the freshly caught fish for a funeral community feast.

But nonetheless, what remains of the traditional houses in Yadua still exudes classic beauty. Here’s a row of bure a little far from the sea, all still intact.

Night time shot of traditional Fijian bure or homes made with thatched roofs and natural material walls.

Night time shot of traditional Fijian bure or homes made with thatched roofs and natural material walls.