The Tanoa Rakiraki Hotel on the northern coast of Viti Levu had 10 guests and 10 of 25 staff staying on the night Cyclone Winston made landfall. After hovering near Tonga, it powered up to become the biggest cyclone at Category 5 with winds of 230km/hour to ever hit the Pacific.
It took a fickle turn toward Fiji, smashing a path between the two big islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu and over the northern island groups. Forty-four people died and thousands of homes and buildings were flattened in its wake. The cyclone reached its peak intensity over the town of Rakiraki, which was directly in its path.
The town was destroyed and the main road blocked. The hotel, the smallest of the Tanoa Hotel Group’s ten properties, was cut off for three days before supplies could be helicoptered in and guests flown out. Rohit Reddy, Managing Director of the Tanoa Hotel Group, said he was proud of his staff’s response during the cyclone: “The guys were amazing.”
During the cyclone, staff gathered all guests together safely in the main reception block and despite broken windows, the building suffered minor damage. But the hotel’s three accommodation blocks were another story. The concrete foundation of the main block lifted on to a precarious 45-degree angle by gale force winds. When it passed, 75 percent of the hotel was damaged.
The hotel is closed indefinitely until insurance assessments and engineering reports are completed.
“We are going as fast as we can,” Mr Reddy said.
But with Fiji’s engineers busy on schools and ports, there are massive delays said Mr Reddy.
Mr Reddy had just met with assessors and estimated it could be three months before reconstruction could start and 12 months or more to re-open. They were a long established risk averse company and would build to the Government’s new code required for cyclone certification for 10-years insurance cover. The big hotels had certification but not all did, he said.
The Insurance Council of Fiji listed 14 companies and 19 engineers approved to issue Cyclone Engineers certificates required to qualify for cyclone insurance.
The 25 staff at the hotel were kept on as many had lost their homes and keeping them employed helps them financially. “Our priority is to help our own people, rebuild and keep our staff employed,” he said.
It is this philosophy and commitment by the Reddy Group and the Tanoa Hotel Group that has engendered strong loyalty and goodwill from its staff and the wider community.
Following the cyclone, the Reddy Group donated $100,000 to the Prime Minister’s Cyclone Relief Fund from its own New Zealand registered charity. It had started The Reddy Foundation (www.reddyfoundation.org.nz) in 2015 to formally process the numerous requests for money received by the company prior to the cyclone.
The Reddy Group are the owners of Fiji’s Tanoa Hotel Group and own companies in health, insurance and property development.