Fiji authorities say the New Zealand Defence Force’s P-3K2 Orion surveillance aircraft saved them days of on-site damage assessments after Tropical Cyclone Winston and enabled them to immediately secure international aid for relief efforts.
CAPTION: Lieutenant Colonel Ilai Moceica, Chief of Operations Planning for the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, explains the trail of devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston to New Zealand and Australian defence personnel.
“Without the Orion, we would have to physically visit the likely affected areas to assess the damage. That is how we did it in the past and that took days to carry out in a scattered archipelago like Fiji,” said Lieutenant Colonel (LTCOL) Ilai Moceica, Chief of Operations Planning for the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
He said information gathered from the Orion’s aerial surveys also enabled authorities to identify worst-hit areas and mobilise resources where they were most needed.
TC Winston struck the Pacific Islands country on 20 February, cutting a swathe of destruction from the northern Lau islands through to the southern part of Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island, and the northern areas of the main island of Viti Levu. Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office said the trail of destruction spanned 50km on each side of the eye of the storm and affected about 45 per cent of the population.
Less than 24 hours after the category five cyclone pummelled Fiji, an NZDF Orion conducted aerial surveys to provide Fijian officials with a clearer picture of the damage it caused.
“The Orion’s aerial surveys enabled the Fijian Government to provide the international community, particularly potential donors, a glimpse of the devastation. By doing so, we were able to quickly secure assistance and support,” LTCOL Moceica said.
Fijian authorities also posted the aerial survey photos taken by the Orion on their social media channels to increase awareness about the scale of the devastation both locally and internationally.
“This was to give the public a glimpse of the extent of the damage and to understand that it would take a lot of effort to get to the affected areas. The challenges are huge and obviously these won’t be addressed overnight,” LTCOL Moceica said.
He said the “strategic assets” that are being provided by the NZDF such as the multi-role vessel HMNZS Canterbury and offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington are critical in getting aid to the cyclone-ravaged northern outer islands.
“Our focus now is to get food, water and shelter to areas in the red zone and to get essential services running again. The Government is trying to address all these with the aid of the NZDF as well as that of the Australian Defence Force and the French military.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: We are aware that Australia has also provided strategic assets to the Fiji mission, including HMAS Canberra on its first ever deployment – but the ADF has still not sent out any media releases since Tuesday of last week.