Fire­fighter Re­calls Win­ston Or­deal

Re­calls Win­ston Or­deal

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Just across the road from the Na­tional Fire Au­thor­ity sta­tion in Raki­raki town is a line of banks, su­per­mar­kets and shops that sell elec­tri­cal equip­ment and clothes. A team of 15 fire­fight­ers is sta­tioned there and they are quite used to see­ing peo­ple walk back and forth from the mar­ket and into the shops. One of the fire­fight­ers is 34-year-old Uraia Se­vu­tia from the vil­lage of Vatukace­vaceva in the high­lands of Ra. Se­vu­tia had just fin­ished a 24-hour shift and was about to head home when the MaiL­ife team dropped in un­ex­pect­edly to seek per­mis­sion from the Chief Fire Of­fi­cer to ask some of the men to share their ex­pe­ri­ences of Cy­clone Win­ston. Raki­raki Sta­tion Chief Of­fi­cer Isikeli Ta­man­isau called Se­vu­tia back into the of­fice to re­live his or­deal. “I re­mem­ber be­ing at home af­ter my 24-hour shift on Satur­day, 20 Fe­bru­ary 2016 when I got a call to re­turn to work to be on standby be­cause of the strong wind warn­ing,” Se­vu­tia said. “I had ad­vised my wife and two nieces at home that they were to move to higher ground if flood­ing got worse and told them I had to go back to work.” In times like these, the im­por­tance of the job comes first for fire­fight­ers and the safety of their own fam­i­lies sec­ond. “I ar­rived at the sta­tion when the flood wa­ters were ris­ing very fast and by 2pm the whole town was flooded up to our knees.” Se­vu­tia said peo­ple had a late re­ac­tion to the strong wind warn­ing given through the me­dia or per­haps just didn’t ex­pect Cy­clone Win­ston to be so de­struc­tive, so some peo­ple were still around town. “At 6pm it grew dark re­ally fast while the wa­ter level kept on ris­ing, along with the strong winds. I was at the sta­tion when I heard peo­ple scream­ing for help from across the road. “They were res­i­dents and busi­ness peo­ple who lived on the top floor of the shops. They were call­ing out for help be­cause the wind had smashed the win­dows and all their be­long­ings were wet. Se­vu­tia and his crew grabbed their lad­ders and helped the peo­ple down to safety. “Those we res­cued and oth­ers who were stranded in town

took shel­ter at the fire sta­tion, which was also flooded.” A power pole fell over and de­stroyed part of the sta­tion, so Se­vu­tia was on the verge of aban­don­ing his work­place and mov­ing those un­der his care to higher ground. “But then I thought oth­er­wise be­cause my work­mates were also out there res­cu­ing peo­ple and they would even­tu­ally be bring­ing them back to the sta­tion,” he said. “I have been work­ing for the Na­tional Fire Au­thor­ity for the past eight years and my ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing Trop­i­cal Cy­clone Win­ston is one I will never for­get.” Se­vu­tia did not re­turn home un­til five days af­ter the cy­clone, to find that his home was par­tially dam­aged with the roof blown off, but his wife and two nieces were safe and sound. “I didn’t care about the house or what was in­side, all I cared about go­ing home that day was see­ing my wife and two nieces safe and well be­cause I hadn’t spo­ken to them since I left for work that dread­ful Satur­day,” he said. Raki­raki Chief Of­fi­cer Ta­man­isau has 17 years of ser­vice up his sleeve, but had never seen any­thing like Win­ston. “I had en­coun­tered Cy­clone Kina in the early 1990s and I thought that was the worst, but Cy­clone Win­ston was a dif­fer­ent story al­to­gether,” he said. He was stranded at his home on that dread­ful day. Bravely he swam the Naqoro flats so he could reach the sta­tion and com­mand his men to stand firm and do their duty to the best of their abil­ity. “We couldn’t drive the trucks so we grabbed the ropes and what­ever we could and just went out there,” he said. Some eight peo­ple died that day and oth­ers were se­verely in­jured. “My men were hos­ing away the blood from all the se­vere in­juries sus­tained by those we res­cued, and of those who died while help­ing to clean up at the hos­pi­tal.” “Raki­raki was up­side down.” Chief Ta­man­isau told MaiL­ife he wanted to com­mend his men for their brav­ery and per­se­ver­ance and for work­ing so well to­gether as a unit.

Uraia Se­vu­tia at the Raki­raki Fire Sta­tion By MELA TUILEVUKA Pho­tos by ANDY PAUL

Raki­raki Fire Sta­tion chief fire of­fi­cer Mr Isikeli Ta­man­isau (sec­ond from right) with the rest of his men on shift when Mail­ife team vis­ited Raki­raki Town.

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