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Wrath of nature

Avinesh Gopal
Monday, December 17, 2012

WHEN Cyclone Bebe struck Fiji in 1972, it left an imprint in the minds of this nation.

Never had Fiji, in its short life as an independent country, been battered with such ferocity by mother nature.

The Fiji Times of October 30, 1972, reported that 18 people died and thousands of homes across the Western Division were destroyed by Bebe.

However, the number of people who died in that devastating cyclone could have been more as there would have been difficulty in relaying the message across at that time.

It was a category two event.

Four decades later, we are staring into the fury of one that has whipped up winds double the strength of Bebe and showing she has the capability to grow into a monster that reaches the top of the gauge, a category five destroyer.

Severe Tropical Cyclone Evan, at the top end of category four with wind speeds up to 200 kilometres per hour, has shown she has no mercy.

Samoa has already felt the wrath of Evan, which was on course last night towards Fiji, being a few hundred kilometres off Labasa.

A tropical cyclone is a storm system characterised by a low pressure centre surrounded by a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce strong winds and heavy rain.

News that a tropical cyclone is moving towards them creates fear in many people, fear because they know how destructive and life endangering it can be.

For others, it is just a "normal" thing. They go about with their daily business, even to the extent of defying warnings and going out to sea to catch fish for a few dollars.

From mid-last week, the Fiji Meteorological Service has been sounding warnings daily for people to be prepared and ready for Evan.

Even the government has advised people to take heed of the warnings and start preparing themselves to face one of the most ferocious cyclones on course to Fiji.

For those thinking of going out to sea, the message from a sea captain is simple: "The sea has no love, no mercy and no passion."

Captain Jonathan Smith, a veteran of cargo ships, superyachts and the Uto ni Yalo, said being out during cyclones was risky business.

"The big ships also get tossed around like paper cups during cyclones and no one would want to meet a cyclone when out at sea," he said.

"You will be blown around by the wind. Even one container ship that I was once in got pushed backwards by the winds during a cyclone.

"If people think they can go out and make it during a cyclone, it's a definite no, no."

Capt Smith said people should never mess with mother nature.

"The sea has no love, no mercy and no passion. The more a man goes out to sea, the more he can respect it.

"One can learn through the hard way by taking risks and going out and end up suffering.

"The other way is by learning from other people's mistakes rather than trying to go out on your own," said Capt Smith.

Following Cyclone Bebe, the most intense tropical cyclone to strike Fiji since then was Tropical Cyclone Tomas in March 2010.

Formed on March 9, 2010, TC Tomas had 10-minute sustained winds of 185 kilometres per hour or one minute sustained winds of 215 kilometres per hour.

The cyclone dissipated on March 18, 2010, after claiming three lives and causing an estimated damage of $US45 million.

But after Bebe and before Tomas, there were other tropical cyclones such as Kina (1993) and Ami (2003) which claimed several lives, and caused major destruction to infrastructure and agriculture.

Cyclone Kina, which hit in the first week of that year, was felt across Viti Levu. It destroyed the country's Salad Bowl and its million-dollar agriculture and did the same elsewhere.

Kina cut off the west of Viti Levu from the east when debris that flowed down the Sigatoka Valley broke the Sigatoka Bridge, which linked the divisions.

Homes were flattend, roofs tore off and people were left without food. Ami did the same, especially to the people of Vanua Levu who were worst affected.

Damage caused to agricultural produce also affected the market to a great extent, with the price of whatever little vegetable that was available at that time going up.

Cyclone Evan, located about 315 kilometres northeast of Labasa or 520 kilometres north-northeast of Suva at 2pm yesterday, may not inflict on us what it did to Samoa as a category two.

"This is going to be an extremely bad cyclone to hit us. probably the worst that we have seen since Cyclone Kina," said Information Ministry permanent secretary Sharon Smith-Johns.

Evan was moving towards the west-southwest at 25 kilometres per hour at 2pm yesterday.

It had maximum sustained winds of about 170 kilometres per hour and momentary gusts over 230 kilometres per hour.

TC Evan was anticipated to move close to or just north of the Yasawas today and it should be located to the west-southwest of Nadi tomorrow and heading towards the south, away from the country.

According to the Fiji Meteorological Service director Alipate Waqaicelua, the cyclone was expected to maintain its current intensity until tomorrow when it is expected to start gradually weakening.

But considering the u-turns that TC Evan has made within the past week, anything is possible and people are still being reminded to be prepared, heed warnings and act responsibly.

It is time to heed warnings instead of being ignorant, time to ensure you and your family's safety instead of playing the "wait-and-see" game, and to act sensibly too.

Better be ready than sorry.

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