A SYDNEY holiday-maker has told of his family’s fear when they were forced to shelter in a makeshift bunker as Cyclone Winston passed over Fiji.
Gary Beer, a 36-year-old insurance underwriter, had spent a week on the paradise island with his family, who were visiting from the UK.
They first heard about the cyclone on Friday, and by 5pm last night, all 250 guests at the hotel were told to evacuate their rooms and gather in the hotel ballroom.
“The bunker was the first sort of reality hit about the seriousness of it all,” he told news.com.au. “By 8pm, there were gale force winds, rain circling and swirling through the air, palm trees heavily swaying. We were receiving constant hourly updates from the hotel manager as to the conditions and path of the cyclone.
“There were 60 beds made up in other conferencing rooms otherwise it was a free-for-all for the sun loungers as a bed.
“The wind and lashing of the rain was incredibly loud … it sounded horrendous.
“We were all quite scared and anxious, especially mum who doesn’t cope well in confined and crowded spaces.
“And everyone was reporting different stories so facts were misinterpreted — like the cyclone was changing path, there were no beds … everything was up in the air for a while.”
Gary had been celebrating his mother Christa’s 60th birthday in Fiji along with his father David, sister Sophie and her husband Aaron Clarke and his friend Seb Lejarle, also from Sydney. The trip had been a surprise for his parents.
The category 5 tropical cyclone, the strongest on record in the southern hemisphere,has wreaked havoc on Fiji’s main island this weekend with hurricane-force winds averaging 325km/h. An elderly man from Nabasovi, Koro Island, was left dead after a rooftop fell on him.
The Beer family were in the south, away from the cyclone’s centre, at the Intercontinental Fiji, which had to run on generators overnight.
Guests, who were mainly Australian and Chinese, weren’t allowed out of the hotel until 11am this morning, after staff had cleared away most of the debris.
“We were meant to leave the island yesterday but the flight was cancelled and Virgin are now telling us Thursday unless they lay on any additional planes,” said Gary.
He said the rain had only just stopped by lunchtime and sandbags were still piled up in certain areas, with trees knocked down, roof tiles on the floor and debris in the pool. There is still no entry in or out of the hotel because of debris on the main roads.