‘I was born and bred in Fiji, and I’ve never seen a cyclone like this’

A RELIEVED Australian couple on the first direct flight home to Sydney from cyclone-ravaged Fiji has criticised their airline carrier for not informing them adequately of the impending disaster.

Chris and Angela Arnott, from the NSW Central Coast, said they were shocked to arrive at the tropical paradise on Friday night only to find out that Winston was imminent.

The islands were smashed and to date at least 29 people have lost their lives, with the final figure feared to be higher.

“I think the biggest disappointment we had was that we boarded a flight at lunch time on Friday with Fiji Airways and they took us to a destination where there was a known Category 5 cyclone about to come through and nobody said a word,” Mr Arnott, 51 said.

Most distressingly for the couple was that their young daughter, Isabel had to experience the terrifying storm – the worst the island nation has ever seen – which hit on Saturday night in Fiji.

“We have a young daughter, they let us take our 2½ year-old girl into a disaster zone,” Mr Arnott said.

Australians Angela and Chris Arnott, with daughter Isabel, are happy to be returning home. Picture: Cameron Richardson
Residents taking shelter under a plastic sheet among the ruins of their house following Cyclone Winston in western Fiji’s Tuvu Lautoka. Picture: AFP

Mrs Arnott, 39, said they when they hit land in Fiji that a notification had been placed on the airline’s website, but argued they should have been told at some point at the airport.

“If someone had of said this was coming and asked us if we still want to go, we would have said no, we have insurance, we will do it another time.” she said.

The pair, who landed into Sydney at 12.30pm today said they were lucky to have been booked in to one of the newer resorts on Denarau Island, the Radisson Blue.

“There was significant damage on a number of the other resorts”

“It was frightening before it. But I think that we were very lucky we stayed in a very new resort,” Mr Arnott said.

“Other resorts didn’t fare as well. There was significant damage on a number of the other resorts”

Fijian Airlines was sent questions today, but is yet to respond.

Members of the Joint Task Force 635 reconnaisance and assessment team prepare to disembark a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster aircraft in support of Operation Fiji Assist. Picture: AAP
The widespread floods in Fiji caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston. Picture: AAP
The Air Force and Army working together to load a multi-role helicopter as part of Operation Fiji Assist. Picture: AAP

They said walls were caved in at the nearby Sheraton, while vacationers at the Sofitel had to sleep in the hotel’s ballroom.

Kind-hearted tourists have also gone out of their way to help the Fijian people.

“The cyclone went through. By daybreak it was obvious it had passed,” he said.

“By 9am in the resort we were staying in at least 30 or 40 guests were outside cleaning up the debris and by lunch time virtually the whole resort was back to normal.”

Sue and John Fahey from Tuross Heads on the South Coast of NSW said they felt “very lucky” to have survived the storm which has already claimed 29,

“It just howled and howled”

Fijian authorities, however, believe the toll will be much higher, as some island villages still remain unreachable.

Australians John and Sue Fahey. Picture: John Cameron

The pair had to be evacuated from their hotel room, The Westin on Denarau Island, and spent the duration of the storm in the more stable ballroom.

“It just howled and howled,” Mr Fahey said.

Mrs Fahey said she felt for the local people, who had been devastated.

“Any of the staff at our hotel, over the next few days after the storm, unless you asked them how they were doing and how their family was, they wouldn’t say anything,” she said.

“But their houses were flat, their plantations were ruined and they had no power.”

Pastor Jack Rem was “born and bred in Fiji” but said he had “never seen a cyclone like this before”.

The cyclone reached speeds exceeding 320km/h and more than 1000 homes were destroyed in Rakiraki, where Mr Rem, now a Sydney resident, grew up.

It was predicted the cyclone when it came on the land in it had speeds exceeding 360km.

Source: The Daily Telegraph. Date: February 23, 2016