‘Nothing was left of what was before’
Volunteer helps in aftermath of cyclone in Fiji
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’.
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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