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Cyclone Ula: Category four cyclone weakens and heads south-west, leaving Vanuatu food gardens devastated

Monday January 11, 2016 - 08:56 EDT

The Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office has given the all-clear for its southern islands as Severe Tropical Cyclone Ula moves away from the archipelago.

Initial reports suggest the islands of Tafea Province escaped the worst of the category four storm, with no deaths or injuries or major damage reported.

Cyclone Ula tracked near Vanuatu's southern-most islands .

On Sunday, authorities issued a red alert for residents to batten down.

Residents on the small remote islands of Aneityum and Futuna spent the night sheltering from the cyclone, with winds estimated at 165 kilometres per hour near the centre.

The Vanuatu Meteorological Service (VMS) said at 6:00am (local time) Ula was about 200 kilometres south of Aneityum Island, moving in a south-southwesterly direction.

It said strong force winds of 45 to 55 kilometres an hour would continue to affect Aneityum Island on Monday and would slowly decrease as Cyclone Ula continued to move southward, away from Vanuatu.

The forecast said seas would remain rough to very rough over southern waters with heavy swells expected.

The VMS said it would not be issuing any more Tropical Cyclone warnings for Ula unless the unless the system turned back.

The Director of CARE International in Vanuatu Inga Mepham told that CARE staff on the ground reported very strong rain and high winds overnight which started to subside early Monday morning.

Food gardens take another battering

Ms Mepham said the main damage was to food gardens, boats and infrastructure around the coast as well as flooding in some areas.

"At the moment, from where our staff are, there have been no reports of loss of life or injuries or serious damage," she said.

Communities throughout Vanuatu's south have been suffering severe food shortages after food gardens were destroyed by category five Cyclone Pam in March, followed by an El Nino-related drought since mid-2015.

Ms Mepham said people were struggling to re-establish their food gardens which were only just starting to regrow with the first crops yet to be harvested.

"These islands don't have access to retail shops — they really rely on the food that they can grow and that they can catch around the area to sustain them," she said.

"I think there'll be a lot of work to do in terms of thinking about how they can keep going to supply their food over the next few months."

The Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office said it was still waiting for reports from several small islands, but Cyclone Ula appeared to have caused little damage.

Director Peter Korissa said Futuna Island was lucky.

"We expect that this island would suffer the most because the system was passing most closely to this island," he told Pacific Beat.

"But the Meteorological Service on the island reports wind speeds of around 30 knots on land and there's not much damage on the island."


© ABC 2016

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