The UCSB men’s and women’s rugby teams were temporarily stranded in Fiji over their spring break due to a cyclone that caused near-gale force winds and severe flooding. On the tropical island for a tournament, the 23 students and two chaperones had to seek shelter with local families and hostels, said Bonnie Keinath, manager of the women’s team and one of the chaperones.
Cyclone Daphne, which stranded the team March 30-April 1, caused the small country to declare a state of emergency. Thousands evacuated their homes, and all major airports closed. As the waters rose, local police assisted the Gauchos in finding shelter and getting to the airport to see if they could find a flight out of the country. At one point in the trip, Keinath said, the teams were split up into three smaller groups, some using life vests and treading water across the flood streets, while others were assisted in small boats. Local villagers assisted them in getting their luggage across in boats as police oversaw the safety of those involved.
By the time the group arrived at the airport, they had not eaten in over 36 hours and had to sleep at the airport until flights gradually became available, said Keinath. The first group, seven female seniors desperate to return as soon as possible in order to crash classes, caught an outgoing flight to Sydney, Australia. The rest of the group caught a flight to Honolulu. Even though everyone made it back home safely on April 3, the players not only had to immediately start school but also then leave that Thursday for a playoff game versus Chico State.
Keinath described the trip as emotionally exhausting. “I’m really happy to be home and that everyone is safe, though I never thought I would be so happy to leave Fiji,” she said. “The whole experience brought both the coaches and players so much closer and really shows how close-knit the rugby community is.”