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Cyclone Harold batters Vanuatu, heavy damage reported

Tuesday April 7, 2020 - 15:39 EST
ABC licensed image
The cyclone is the strongest to hit Vanuatu since Cyclone Pam in 2015. - ABC licensed

Cyclone Harold, a slow-moving, category five storm, has caused widespread destruction in the small Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, according to early reports.

The monster cyclone is now moving away from Vanuatu after battering several islands with winds of more than 200 kilometres an hour, and is continuing its path to neighbouring Fiji.

The extent of the damage in Vanuatu remains unclear because the storm brought down phone networks.

But disaster officials on the ground yesterday reported that houses and food crops had been destroyed and heavy rains were causing flooding.

Darryn Keneally, the Australian-based director of Coconut Oil Production Santo on Santo Island in Vanuatu, said his local manager told him this morning the island's capital Luganville had been devastated.

"Fifty per cent of homes are damaged," Mr Keneally said.

"At this point there seems to be no lives lost, but communication is down so it's very hard to get an accurate picture."

Mr Kenneally said the company's factory had also been badly damaged.

"We, more importantly, are concerned for the people's wellbeing and livelihoods," he said.

"We're grateful to hear that at this point no lives are lost, but that could change."

Alice Natu, senior disaster risk reduction officer at Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), said an emergency operations centre had opened last night.

She said a surveillance flight was scheduled to leave at 12:00pm (local time) and assessment teams were to make their way to islands up north.

Olivia Finau from the Vanuatu Red Cross Society said they were preparing for bad news when communication lines were restored.

She told Pacific Beat their officials on the island of Santo yesterday told them there had been "a lot of flooding in four residential areas, very strong winds, rain, garden damage and some of the houses were flown away".

"It is a big worry, because it is a category five. We are expecting a lot of damage to some parts of the islands up north," Ms Finau said.

The director of NaDraki weather service, Neville Koop, said the cyclone was expected to remain a powerful storm for several days.

"After sunrise, we will start to see the true magnitude of the impacts there [in Vanuatu]," he told Pacific Beat.

"We now have Fiji in its path, and after that, Tonga. While we don't expect the cyclone to make landfall in either of those island nations, it will be very close to them and enough so, we do expect more damage and possible physical harms," he warned.

The director of Vanuatu's disaster office is already looking to the recovery efforts.

NDMO head Abraham Nasak posted a video to social media yesterday, in which he said they would further ease travel restrictions that had been introduced as part of the country's COVID-19 state of emergency.

Mr Nasak said because there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19, they would be able to lift the ban on domestic travel, so relief goods could be sent to the worst-affected areas.

But he said they would not be compromising and opening up their international border to people, even humanitarian officials, from countries with COVID-19 community transmission.

That would include Australia and New Zealand.

"We will allow cargo, such as relief goods that we request," he said.

But Mr Nasak was very clear that those goods would need to have been requested by Vanuatu, saying they did not want "unsolicited bilateral donations".


© ABC 2020

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