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Cyclone Evan: Face-to-face with the storm

MARC HINTON
Last updated 19:16 17/12/2012

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South Pacific

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Evan seemed like such an innocuous name for such a fearsome beast.

When I came face-to-face with my first tropical cyclone, I wanted to call him something much grander.

Like Thor, or Zeus, or maybe Smaug. Evan sounds more like a mild mannered accountant than a vicious category five cyclone.

No, Evan just didn't do this fellow justice. He whistled in to put a serious spanner in the works of my holiday in Fiji today and certainly didn't behave like any Evans I know.

He bent palm trees like they were twigs, ripped off roofs like they were made of cardboard, and sent furniture, barbecues and even the odd car whistling around like they were feathers in a zephyr. He also put the frighteners on a normally happy-go-lucky collection of mainly Australasian holidaymakers over here to enjoy a spot of pre-Christmas sun and fun.

Don't call me Fiji bitter, but this wasn't what I signed up for.

I guess if there has been a positive to this - my debut first-hand experience with the true force of nature - it's that at least we were forewarned, if not forearmed.

The upside of the sophisticated weather-gathering data we have these days means these things don't tend to come unannounced. Even if they still do take people by surprise.

So when we departed Auckland for the idyllic peninsula of Denarau, just out of Nadi, on Saturday morning we knew well enough we were flying, quite literally, into a cyclone.

But, gee, what are you gonna do? The airlines don't tell you not to go, the hotels don't offer to refund your hefty, pre-paid accounts and your holiday time is already booked.

So being the intrepid types - well myself and my 5-year-old are, the wife is just easily led - we said to heck with it, we're coming anyway. Who knows, maybe we'll get an experience out of it.

We certainly got some stories for the long summer evenings ahead.

The worst thing about the first couple of days was the waiting. You knew something was coming, just not when and how bad. When we landed, optimistic Fijians told us it would pass to the north, and all we'd have was a strong breeze and a bit of rain to contend with.

"Not like Samoa," they said with knowing looks.

Then as the hours ticked by, it became apparent that Evan had a mind of his own and was headed a lot closer than had been anticipated. When they started taping up all the windows in the resort we had an idea that this could be big.

Then emergency procedures were put in place. A curfew declared. Instructions were delivered to stock up on essentials like food, water and light. The resort was put in shutdown from 9am today and we were told to basically sit tight and brace ourselves. We were on our own.

Then it came. It started with a strong wind and wisps of rain. Sort of like Wellington when the southwester is coming in off the long run.

But that was only Evan's advance party. Minute-by-minute the wind picked up, until it was something truly scary. The coconut palms were barely able to resist, bending, straining as they were stripped of foliage.

The rain picked up. The tide came in. The wind grew in strength, up around the 100kmh mark, and beyond. Things started flying round. Bits of outdoor furniture, sheets of roof metal.

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As sturdy as our resort was, it was barely able to cope. Our room sprang multiple leaks, the ceiling strained and when the gusts came up, you could feel the building almost groaning under the pressure. Our barbecue was hanging on only by its gas fitting.

We could only imagine how the shanty-like villages were coping. Surely not well. There was no way of knowing. To step outside would be foolishness. At least we still had water, and limited power.

By 10pm, the power and water were out in Nadi. Cellphones were not working, though our hotel landline was.

The wind had howled for seven or eight hours and we were told that even though Evan was moving away from Nadi the winds would intensify during the night from its kick.

It was a hideous noise.

We could not open the doors, because the water would cascade in and we were already negotiating puddles inside.

All we could do was wait. And hope.

It's a scary thing to stand face-to-face with a cyclone. Even one named Evan. It has a force that is just a little bit indomitable.

Maybe I should have known not to tempt fate so.

My wife and I had spent our honeymoon in Thailand just six weeks before the tsunami struck. Then we holidayed on the Caribbean coast of Mexico just a fortnight after Wilma had wreaked her havoc.

Third time unlucky. Or lucky, when you think about how things could have turned out.

- Stuff

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