Brett Phibbs

Rebuilding a monster task in aftermath of Cyclone Winston

WHEN they leave their home the thieves come. So they are staying put, not willing to lose their possessions when they have already lost their homes.

These are the people of Lovu Seaside, an informal settlement about half an hour north of Nadi. It's home to about 1500 people but it's not an official village so its people get nothing from the Government.

Pastor Mike Naisau from the C3 Church, a local partner of aid organisation Tear Fund, showed the Herald some of the worst-hit houses in the settlement.

Most residents are still there, toughing out the floodwaters which until yesterday were waist-high, and the sound of hammers hitting nails echoes across the place as the rebuild starts. They have to rebuild, Mr Naisau explains, there is no other choice.

Shahista Bano, 27, lives in the settlement with her husband and baby son Ikram, 8 months.

On Sunday Mr Naisau found them sitting in the wreckage of their home, in the only corner of the living area that had not collapsed.

"The house was completely twisted. They were just sitting there with the baby, the whole place was at risk of coming down - but they didn't want to go, everything they have is here," he said.

Mrs Bano and her husband have already rebuilt much of the frame of the house.

"We want to come back," she said. "When we came back here the next morning after the cyclone our house was destroyed. It made me feel so bad. Our stuff was everywhere."

Across Sua Sua St, a dirt track riddled with floodwater-filled potholes, an elderly woman with one leg sits in a wheelchair.

She speaks no English but wants to tell her story so sends her grandson off to get the neighbour, Peter.

Peter told the Herald the woman lived there with her two grandsons. She had one leg amputated because of diabetes complications and was wheelchair-bound.

She and the boys have nowhere to go, they have only old bread to eat and their house is surrounded by water. The roof is gone but some walls are still up so they have erected tarpaulins for shelter. It does little to keep the tropical rain out, though.

In front of the woman on the concrete base of the house lie four sheets of paper, held down by rocks. They are the family's birth certificates and they are drying in the sun.

"You can get replacements, but they cost money, and these people have none," Mr Naisau explains.

"They are the poorest people and our most vulnerable. They cannot afford to buy homes so they have to rent houses on the settlement. They are poorly built and that is why they have been so badly damaged," he says.

"This was the worst cyclone ever, not only for us but for the nation. Everyone is affected in some way.

"Everyone needs help but at the same time the thieves are going to town. I went around saying 'the evacuation centres are open, go' and they said to me 'we won't move'. Because by the time they get back their belongings are gone."

Brett Phibbs

Mr Naisau said the recovery effort in Fiji would be long, but in places like Lovu Seaside, it would take much more to right the wrongs of Cyclone Winston.

"But even though you see devastation of the houses and hear of the thieves and the problems, the people here still have a reason to smile. They find a reason," he said.

John Watson, Tear Fund's New Zealand spokesman, said aid donations from New Zealand and other countries were vital.

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