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Sarah Jane Weaver
Youths from the Lautoka Fiji Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perform at the Church College of Fiji.

SUVA, Fiji — Local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Fiji are assessing needs and working to help the many church members who lost homes when Cyclone Winston made landfall here Saturday night, said members of the Pacific Area Presidency.

"Our hearts and prayers are with those who have lost family members, homes and property,” said Elder Kevin W. Pearson, a General Authority Seventy and president of the LDS Church’s Pacific Area. “We will do all within our power to help those who have been impacted by this devastating cyclone."

Elder Pearson and his counselors, Elder O. Vincent Haleck and Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, were in Fiji to participate in the rededication of the Suva Fiji Temple when the cyclone struck.

Church leaders are assessing the needs of Latter-day Saints in the Pacific and working with relief agencies in the country to provide emergency response, said Elder Haleck, a General Authority Seventy.

In addition, LDS Church leaders are slowly getting information from Fiji’s outer islands. Church representatives are en route to those locations to get a better assessment, said Elder Haleck.

“We stand ready to work to try to assist where we can,” he said.

The leaders have confirmed that no members who live on Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, were injured in the storm. All missionaries — who were brought into Suva to participate in the temple rededication and cultural celebration — are safe. Suva escaped the brunt of the storm, which shifted direction in the hours before it hit the Pacific island nation.

Cyclone Winston struck Fiji with up to 175-mile-per-hour winds on Saturday evening — in the hours between the LDS Church’s cultural celebration and temple rededication. The powerful category 5 storm left dozens dead, knocked out power, destroyed clean water sources and crops and flattened entire villages across the Pacific island nation.

Mandatory curfews in Suva were lifted Monday and businesses began to reopen; downed trees had been removed from the streets. However, power remained off in most of the city and transportation was still a major issue as the storm flooded major roads and washed away bridges.

As the winds and rains of Cyclone Winston intensified here Saturday, LDS Church leaders made the difficult decision to put an early end to the Suva Fiji Temple youth cultural celebration held in the Vodafone Arena. Youth were transported to church school in the area and members were asked to comply with government-enforced curfews.

But the youth who had been practicing dances that represent the Pacific islands of the temple district — Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands — were disappointed.

So Elder Halack and Elder Neilsen stayed an extra day in Fiji to watch the youths whose numbers were cut short, perform.

Included in that group were teens from the Lautoka Fiji Stake — the area hardest hit on the main island by the storm.

Elder Nielsen, a General Authority Seventy, spoke of the dedication of Fijian members — who stayed in Suva Monday to dance “not knowing what they will see when they go home.”

“They have their costumes on, they have smiles on their faces, for they want to participate in the rededication of the temple,” he said. “The spiritual side of their lives are more important then their temporal side.”

Solomoni Kaumaitotoya, president of the Lautoka Fiji Stake, said because bridges are out between Suva and the west side of Fiji’s main island, it will take longer to get the youth home. Buses left with the youths immediately following Monday’s performance.

“They have painted their faces, put on their costumes,” President Kaumaitotoya said. “A category 5 wind storm didn’t move their faith.”

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