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Vanuatu faces 12-month recovery as Cyclone Harold heads for Fiji

Wednesday April 8, 2020 - 15:09 EST
ABC licensed image
The country director for the NGO Oxfam said she expects the recovery will take more than one year. - ABC licensed

Disaster officials in the small Pacific nation of Vanuatu are working around the clock to assess the damage that a category five cyclone has caused to remote islands, as Cyclone Harold heads for Fiji.

But phone lines that were cut as t are still down, making it difficult to ascertain the extent of the destruction.

Initial aerial surveillance flights over the worst-affected islands on Tuesday afternoon have shown countless houses and other buildings like churches that have lost roofs, while coconut trees have been downed and food crops flattened.

The ABC has been told the situation is "grim" with fears the damage in some places has been as bad as , killing at least 15 people and leaving the country with a damage bill of nearly $600 million, more than half of the country's annual GDP.

Lisa Faerua, the country director for the NGO Oxfam, told the ABC's Pacific Beat she expected the recovery would take more than a year.

Ms Faerua said she expected it would be made worse by the economic damage the small Pacific island was set to face because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Vanuatu has already closed its international borders, shutting out valuable tourists and cruise ships, with estimates as many as 40 per cent of people would lose their jobs in the tourism sector as a result.

"It will take time. Recovery will take probably up to six to 12 months," Ms Faerua said.

"But what is emerging at the moment for the needs of the people of Vanuatu, it's the economic livelihoods. Given lots of vegetable and food gardens have been damaged during TC Harold."

"And also people have lost jobs because of COVID-19," she added.

Harold heads for Fiji

In neighbouring Fiji, there are already reports of damage, as the now-category four storm tracks towards it close to large-population areas.

Thousands of people are sheltering at home or in evacuation centres as winds of 175 kilometres per hour wreak havoc.

There are reports of roofs being blown off buildings, roads blocked by fallen trees and swollen waterways. There are also reports of flash flooding in low-lying areas — all this while the country tries to contain its outbreak of coronavirus.

With 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, two cities — including the capital Suva — were in lockdown.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said special COVID-19 measures were in place for evacuees.

"We have contingency plans in place to prevent any mixing between evacuees and Fijians who are close contacts of existing COVID-positive patients," Mr Bainimarama said.

"So you should have no hesitation in evacuating as normal if flooding poses a risk.

"All evacuation centres will also be sanitised, and regularly monitored to ensure that they are not filled beyond capacity."

The director of Fiji's National Disaster Management Office Vasiti Soko ordered everyone except emergency services to stay off the roads on Fiji's main island Viti Levu.

"This is to avoid casualty," she said.

Hundreds of people are sheltering in evacuation centres around the island. Ms Soko said physical distancing would be enforced in evacuation centres.

"We are working closely with the Ministry of Health as well as our first responders in making sure that physical distancing is still being practised in evacuation centres," she said.


© ABC 2020

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