35-mile-wide damage trail

The crowd on Suva Wharf to watch the regatta celebrating the Coronation of King George V on June 18, 1911. Picture: FILE

THE hurricane on January 28, 1952 was the worst disaster of its kind in Fiji’s modern history.

From the northern islands of the Yasawa group to Suva the hurricane, which had some of the characteristics of a typhoon left a belt of destruction officially stated to be 35 miles wide.

On February 5, 1952, The Fiji Times stated that two important facts relieve the soberness of the hurricane’s aftermath; one although the number of casualties was more than 1000 only 20 deaths in the actual storm were listed officially. Secondly the disaster had produced innumerable cases of inter-racial mutual help and generosity.

“Hurricane casualties treated at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital, Suva total more than 800, according to official figures,” reported The Fiji Times.

“The official roll of deaths in the actual storm is 23, 20 of them in Viti Levu and three in the Yasawas. The death total does not include any persons who may have died from injuries since Monday.”

“Suva suffered tremendous damage to the whole wharf area, to innumerable houses, and to factories, hotels, shops and other commercial buildings. Most spectacular scenes occurred when the reclaimed area behind the King’s wharf was partly washed out, wrecking the Harbour Master’s office and part of the concrete flooring of the cargo sheds. At the same time the upper portion of the Central Buildings was smashed as if by an earthquake, and the Club Hotel was unroofed and many houses were virtually demolished. Perhaps the most tragic devastation near Suva was at Tamavua where the whole Fijian village was flattened and many other houses including some substantial modern European buildings were wrecked,” described the news report.

“The Suva wharf is written off,” the Acting Colonial Secretary, Mr R.M Taylor said when reviewing hurricane damage at a Relief Committee press conference.

After the hurricane, Mr Taylor continued the wharf area was in shambles and the question arose whether the direct line ship Armidale from London would have to be diverted to Lautoka.

However the engineers said they could make the wharf workable in five days and he added: “They did better than that and took less than three days.”

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