‘Noth­ing was left of what was be­fore’

Vol­un­teer helps in af­ter­math of cy­clone in Fiji

Harefield Gazette - - NEWS - By Amita Joshi amita.joshi@trin­i­tymir­ror.com

A FOR­MER Uxbridge waiter is lucky to be alive af­ter be­ing caught up in a vi­cious Fi­jian storm which bat­tered the is­land and de­stroyed the homes of com­mu­ni­ties.

Teenager Ge­orge Burke was on a vol­un­teer­ing trip last month in Tua Tua when Cy­clone Win­ston, the se­cond strong­est storm on record to pass over Koro is­land, took an un­ex­pected turn and hur­tled through the area, dam­ag­ing struc­tures and leav­ing many in­jured.

The 19-year-old for­mer Nan­dos waiter, who was air­lifted off the is­land in the af­ter­math, is still in Fiji in a safer area and said it ‘felt like be­ing part of a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic movie’.

His mother, El­iz­a­beth Burke de­scribed it as a ‘mir­a­cle’ that he and his group sur­vived af­ter go­ing through the hor­rific or­deal which left them won­der­ing if they would make it through.

Af­ter sav­ing up as a waiter, Ge­orge de­cided to em­bark on a pro­ject coach­ing sport to the chil­dren on the is­land of Koro.

Cy­clone Win­ston was not due to hit their lo­ca­tion, but by Fe­bru­ary 20, the eye of the storm changed di­rec­tion and the is­lan­ders were told to ex­pect a cat­e­gory five storm to head their way.

The Fiji Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Ser­vice had warned com­mu­ni­ties in the area to ‘ex­pect very de­struc­tive winds’ and asked them not to leave their homes.

Ge­orge, along with 15 other Think Pa­cific vol­un­teers liv­ing with the lo­cal com­mu­nity in Tua Tua had no choice but to brave the storm.

But when Cy­clone Win­ston hit, El­iz­a­beth said what Ge­orge saw left him ‘trau­ma­tised’.

She said: “They ended up run­ning up a hill away from the tidal wave, tak­ing chil­dren with them.”

Ge­orge de­scribed the scene as ut­ter dev­as­ta­tion and added: “The whole vil­lage fell apart like Lego, with trees, cars and houses fly­ing through the air.”

The storm left most vol­un­teers with­out any pos­ses­sions, with Ge­orge man­ag­ing to hang onto a few elec­tri­cal devices.

Faced with in­jured adults and chil­dren af­ter the storm passed, vol­un­teers tried their best to use what first aid knowl­edge they had to help, al­though med­i­cal sup­plies were short.

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties re­ported 42 dead in the im­me­di­aite af­ter­math.

Af­ter the storm hit on the Satur­day all com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the is­land were lost, with the is­lan­ders and the vol­un­teers not know­ing when help might ar­rive.

“Noth­ing was left of what was be­fore,” Ge­orge said. “All the trees had fallen, all the houses were in pieces.

“There were no birds in the sky or flies in the air, dead an­i­mals lit­tered the land­scape and it in­stantly be­came a sur­vival sit­u­a­tion.

“Al­most all my pos­ses­sions had drifted out to sea but this was ren­dered mean­ing­less as we knew we had sur­vived a cat­e­gory five hur­ri­cane.

“The to­geth­er­ness and ca­ma­raderie of the vil­lage to over­come such dif­fi­cul­ties was over­whelm­ingly lift­ing.

“Im­me­di­ately we were as­signed roles, the vol­un­teers were ei­ther ad­min­is­ter­ing first aid or help­ing clear build­ings of rub­ble.

“At one mo­ment I was handed a baby with a burst boil who had blood and pus gush­ing out of his back.

“It was a mo­ment of re­spon­si­bil­ity I had yet to deal with in my life, but thank­fully I was able to stop the bleed­ing and ap­ply ba­sic first aid to help ease the pain.”

For the next three days, the vol­un­teers were marooned on the is­land.

Ge­orge was even­tu­ally air­lifted off Koro land­ing at Suva 4am on Mon­day last week, where they were taken to a ho­tel for re­cu­per­a­tion. Since then, the team have been rest­ing and get­ting back to full health.

Ge­orge’s mother said she didn’t sleep, but it was

up- a ‘ tremen­dous re­lief ’ to hear from her son.

“They did what they could,” she said.

“Ge­orge man­aged to save his cam­era and mo­bile phone.

“The vol­un­teers were very lucky to be res­cued from Koro, the is­lan­ders are still there.”

Since wit­ness­ing the events, Ge­orge has started a fundrais­ing cam­paign to help those fam­i­lies who are still in the midst of the wreck.

“I would like to ad­dress the fact that the Fi­jian peo­ple are in a cri­sis and are des­per­ately in need of sup­port” he said.

“They des­per­ately need our help.”

Ge­orge’s father John Burke added that he was ‘ex­tremely proud of [their] coura­geous, big hearted and very kind son’.

Visit crowd­fund­ing. just­giv­ing.com/ ThinkPa­cific to do­nate

I was handed a baby with a burst boil... It was a

mo­ment of re­spon­si­bilty I had

yet to deal with”

n RE­SPON­SI­BIL­ITY: Ge­orge Burke, 19, helped treat some of those in­jured by Cy­clone Win­ston us­ing his first aid skills

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