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Former Uxbridge waiter on volunteering trip survives devastating Fiji hurricane which tore apart island

19-year-old George Burke from Uxbridge found himself in the eye of the storm with fellow volunteers in a terrifying hurricane ordeal which shook the island with brute force

A former Uxbridge waiter is lucky to be alive after being caught up in a vicious Fijian hurricane which battered the island and destroyed the homes of communities.

Teenager George Burke was on a volunteering trip in Tua Tua when Cyclone Winston, the second strongest hurricane on record to pass over Koro island, took an unexpected turn and hurtled through the area, damaging structures and leaving many injured.

The 19-year-old former Nandos waiter, who was airlifted out of the island in the aftermath, is still in Fiji in a safer area and told Getwestlondon it "felt like being part of a post-apocalyptic movie".

His mother, Elizabeth Burke described it as a "miracle" that he and his group survived after going through the horrific ordeal which left them wondering if they would make it through.

The storm is coming

After saving up as a waiter, George decided to embark on the project sports coaching children on the island of Koro.

Cyclone Winston was not due to hit in their location, but by Saturday (February 20), the eye of the storm changed direction and the islanders were told to expect a category five storm to head their way.

The Fiji Meteorological Service had warned communities in the area to "expect very destructive winds" and asked them not to leave their homes.

George, along with 15 other Think Pacific volunteers living with the local community in Tua Tua had no choice but to brave the storm.

But when cyclone Winston hit, Elizabeth said what George saw left him "traumatised".

She said: "They ended up running up a hill away from the tidal wave, taking children with them."

George described the scene as utter devastation and added: "The whole village fell apart like Lego, with trees, cars and houses flying through the air."

The aftermath

The storm left most volunteers without any possessions, with George managing to hang onto a few electrical devices.

Faced with injured adults and children after the storm passed, volunteers tried their best to use what first aid knowledge they had to help, although medical supplies were short.

Local authorities reported 42 dead, with the toll rising as more bodies are found.

After the storm hit on Saturday all communications with the island were lost, with the islanders and the volunteers not knowing when help might arrive.

"Nothing was left of what was before" George said. "All the trees had fallen, all the houses were in pieces.

"There were no birds in the sky or flies in the air, dead animals littered the landscape and it instantly became a survival situation.

"Almost all my possessions had drifted out to sea but this was rendered meaningless as we knew we had survived a Category 5 hurricane.

"The togetherness and camaraderie of the village to overcome such difficulties was overwhelmingly up-lifting.

"Immediately we were assigned roles, the volunteers were either administering first aid or helping clear buildings of rubble.

"At one moment I was handed a baby with a burst boil who had blood and pus gushing out of his back.

"It was a moment of responsibility I have yet to deal with my life, but thankfully I was able to stop the bleeding and apply basic first aid to help ease the pain."

For the next three days, the volunteers were marooned on a desert island.

George was eventually airlifted off Koro landing at Suva 4am on Monday, where they were taken to a hotel for recuperation.

Since being airlifted off, the team have been resting and getting back to full health.

George's mother told Getwestlondon how she didn't sleep, but it was a "tremendous relief" to hear from her son.

"They did what they could," she said. "George managed to save his camera and mobile phone.

"The volunteers were very lucky to be rescued from Koro, the islanders are still there."

Since witnessing the events, George has started a fundraising campaign to help those families who are still in the midst of the wreck.

"I would like to address the fact that the Fijian people are in a crisis and are desperately in need of support" he said.

"They desperately need our help."

Father John Burke said he was "extremely proud of [their] courageous, big hearted and very kind son."

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