WHEN Tropical Cyclone Evan descended onto the Sugar City, many feared the worst. Lautoka had escaped being directly affected by natural disasters for many years until TC Evan came to town.
It will not make those who suffered feel any better — but some good lessons have come out of category four storm, Evan.
After TC Evan took its time and tore up the sugar producing area over a 12-hour period, the unfolding scenes painted pictures of irony.
As expected, some lean-to homes were blown away or smashed down by the 180 kilometre-an-hour wind, however, it was the devastation caused to homes presumed immune to destruction that more than raised eyebrows.
Well-established concrete homes and buildings literally had their roofs torn off bringing into question construction standards and engineering oversight.
Lautoka special administrator Praveen Bala said the damage to many homes could have been avoided or reduced if building standards and regulations were adhered to.
"We have very clear and defined regulations that are more than sufficient to ensuring that homes can withstand damaging winds as long as these are followed to the latter.
"What Evan has revealed to us is that people are not being honest or simply not following regulations, laws and procedures," he said.
Mr Bala said the extent of damage to well-established structures should not be overlooked or down-played.
"Engineers are supposed to monitor the progress of building and inspect construction at various phases as required by regulation.
"I am not saying that every engineer or builder or contractor is to blame but someone has to be taken to task for the mere fact that recently established buildings failed miserably to meet the basic standards and have lost roofs," he added.
Mr Bala said damage to municipal structures alone from Evan had racked up a substantial bill and repair work had commenced to ensure the continued livelihood of 600 vendors.
"We have begun work on damaged council properties and prioritised the Lautoka Municipal Market roof dome because of our market vendors' dependence on fruit and vegetable sales as their only source of livelihood. Rehabilitation work on the roof has been pegged at $17,000."
Mr Bala also revealed that maintenance and repairs to the Sugar City Mall roof was scheduled to begin next week.
"Estimated costs lie in the vicinity of $41,200 and we are currently in the process of obtaining quotes for repairs," he said.
Apart from extensive damage to structures, the damage and destruction caused to trees and shrubbery in the wake of Evan left Lautoka, a city renowned for its greenery, resembling a war zone.
However, in two days business was back to normal and Sugar City citizens and the business community lauded the efforts by the Lautoka City Council, civil servants, Lautoka Corrections Centre inmates and security forces for the rapid and comprehensive cleanup conducted in record time.
"We are very appreciative and thankful to Mr Bala, LCC, Republic of Fiji Military Forces, inmates and civil servants for the tremendous job in cleaning up the city so quickly," said the Lautoka Chamber for Commerce and Industry president Pyara Singh.
While inmates from the Lautoka Corrections Centre have completed their task in clearing up the debris that littered the city, officers from the RFMF are still at work and in the final phase of clean-up operations.
"We are on target in accordance with a clean-up schedule earlier mapped out and are being assisted by 50 officers from the RFMF. We have started trimming and pruning trees within the city area and I am happy to see the once brown trees turning green in such a very short time."
The Lautoka SA said the destruction left by TC Evan provided a unique opportunity to the council in terms of residents' planting of trees within their home boundaries.
"We are now able to draw up laws and regulations to be implemented to ensure that residents do not plant big trees near boundary fences or near buildings.
"In fact, I believe that 25 per cent of property damage could have been avoided had people just followed council rules or warnings."
Mr Bala said clean-up operations conducted in the aftermath of Evan revealed several interesting issues, most notably the amount of debris being dumped into waterways in and around Lautoka.
Because of the very real threat posed by debris accumulating and clogging waterways and the contributory effects to flooding, the Lautoka City Council has begun clamping down on litter bugs.
"God gave us clean air and water and look at what we've done to these gifts. It is the responsibility of every citizen in Lautoka to ensure that rubbish is disposed of correctly.
"We have spent thousands of dollars dredging areas like the Vunato River but because of the huge amount of rubbish being dumped there, the debris has collected at the mouth of the river and this has contributed to flooding during periods of heavy rain," he said.
"Beginning this year, we will have litter rangers closely monitoring these waterways and anyone caught dumping rubbish there will be taken to task.
"Enough warnings have been given and people have been made aware of the new anti-litter laws, 2013 will be a time for action."
Mr Bala said vehicles found dumping garbage at waterways would be taken to task.
"As an added incentive to keeping waterways clean and litter-free, rangers will conduct quarterly inspections of creek and river beds and areas that complied with the regulations will be awarded tokens."
As the country's second city and administrative centre for the Western Division clears up the debris and destruction wrought by TC Evan, there is a sense of optimism and hope in the air.
"After successfully hosting a number of international events last year, Mr Bala believes that 2013 will bring more opportunities and challenges.
"But no matter what comes our way, I have every faith that we as a people will get through whatever comes our way.
"Our quick recovery from the two floods and Evan last year was testimony to the strength, character and resilience of our people," he said.