THE lives of people in Natoaika and Deladamanu villages in Naitasiri have improved significantly following the upgrading of the Bailey bridge at Wainalumu.
Natoaika Village headman Epeli Matasu said the newly-upgraded bridge was damaged by a flash flood in 2012.
"It can now cater for schoolchildren who use it daily to travel to school. In the past, bus drivers were reluctant to drive across because it looked like it was going to collapse," Mr Matasu said.
"We're really thankful to the engineers who designed the new bridge and everyone else who was involved."
He said getting to work and accessing shops, health care and appointments were now certain with the opening of the new bridge.
"We're grateful that the bridge was repaired before any accident occurred. Minibuses used to transport children to and from school but now, bigger buses are doing that. Our produce is sold at the local market or exported overseas and this new bridge plays a vital role in facilitating that.
"Whenever the river gets flooded, the old bridge would flood too, forcing school children and employed village members to remain at home."
He said this had also opened up possible developments in the villages.
"In the past, our building materials like cement blocks and timber used to be dropped off across the main river. We had to transport them over by boat before carrying them to the village.
"With the bridge, our building materials can now be dropped off right in front of our own houses. Some of us are even thinking of building double storey buildings here now."
Don Clifford, the technical delivery manager for MWH Global in Fiji, said the repairs were prioritised when engineers saw its condition.
"It wasn't just a matter of convenience. We were worried that the entire bridge might be lost if something wasn't done soon, so we sped up the repair program."