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12 Mar 2015, 1:20 AM UTC

Cyclone Pam: Vanuatu activates emergency plans as category five system predicted

Cyclone Pam: Vanuatu activates emergency plans as category five system predicted
The Pacific nation of Vanuatu is bracing for a powerful hit from severe Tropical Cyclone Pam which has been upgraded to a category four system. Forecasters are warning of damaging winds estimated to be at 165kph close to the cyclone's centre. Pam was tracking in a southerly direction to the west of Vanuatu, which would avoid a direct hit if the cyclone continued on its current course. Wind warnings have been issued for the provinces of Torba, Sanma, Malampa and Penama as the cyclone tracks between Vanuatu and Fiji. "The centre's going to pass to the east, roughly parallel to the Vanuatu islands over the next 24 to 48 hours, it is forecast to reach category five by midnight tonight Fiji time (11pm AEST)," meteorologist Neville Koop, from Fiji's Na Draki Weather Service, said. "There's more intensification to come before it gets at its closest approach to Port Vila. "But we'll probably see the storm-force winds or hurricane-force winds of about 150kph up to the 200kph mark are certainly possible as far as Port Vila." The Vanuatu Meteorological Service said heavy rainfall and flooding, including flash flooding, was expected over low-lying areas and areas close to river banks. Flooding was also expected near coastal areas. Residents across Vanuatu have been stocking up supplies from shops and supermarkets since Wednesday. Meanwhile, authorities in Fiji issued heavy rain warnings for all its islands. Flash floods are also expected in Fiji's low-lying areas. Agencies prepare for disaster response Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office has activated national emergency operation centres across the islands. "Our job is just to identify evacuation areas and help to transport people out from the rural areas to the evacuation centre, we cannot really force people to move out from their homes," the office's operations manager, Peter Korissa, said. Mr Korissa told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat communication to the outer islands had been a challenge. "In the outer islands where there is poor infrastructure, and poor facilities in terms of communication, we usually work with the provincial disaster communities and then from there they can channel down the communications to area councils and down to community level. "We always go on air advising the communities to do some pre-preparations and identify the potential evacuation centres near where they are living so they can move in the worst case scenario." The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said volunteers in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Fiji are on standby to take on assessments once the storm subsides. "We also have preparations in place down at provincial level so that as soon as the cyclone passes, we're able to access stocks of water containers, blankets, kitchen, kitchen sets and able to distribute those within 24 to 48 hours," said Aurélia Balpe, the head of the Pacific regional office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Suva. "Some islands we won't have volunteers in place, especially the really outer islands off the coast of Santa Cruz and then it's just a matter of as soon as possible getting on to a boat and trying to reach those communities." Ms Balpe said there were pre-positioned water supply and water purification systems in each country.