11 Apr 2020

Relief efforts begin in cyclone-hit Vanuatu

11:09 am on 11 April 2020

Relief efforts are swinging into action in Vanuatu after a powerful cyclone devastated several islands this week.

Cyclone Harold tore through the country's north on Tuesday, killing at least two people and causing widespread damage. The islands of Santo and Pentecost were particularly hard-hit.

Aerial shot of Luganville

Aerial shot of Luganville Photo: Leo Pax

Disaster assessments from Vanuatu suggest as many as 160,000 people were affected when Cyclone Harold cut across several provinces, destroying infrastructure and crops and leaving thousands without shelter.

Yesterday, the MP for Luganville, Vanuatu's second largest town, said as many as 70 percent of the houses in the town of 16,000 people had been damaged.

A destroyed, now roofless, health centre on the Vanuatu island of Ambrym.

A destroyed, now roofless, health centre on the Vanuatu island of Ambrym. Photo: VBTC

Australia on Friday announced that it was sending a military plane loaded with relief supplied including blankets, lanterns, shelter kits and logistics support. Support had also been offered to Fiji and Tonga, which were also struck by Cyclone Harold.

"We stand ready to provide further help to our Pacific family in whatever ways we can," said the foreign minister, Marise Payne. "It will be some time before the full impact of this disaster is known."

Canberra also approved support for health, education, policing and NGOs operating on the ground in cyclone-hit areas.

Australia's announcement came a day after New Zealand's foreign minister, Winston Peters, announced that it, too, was sending support to Vanuatu.

A New Zealand Air Force Hercules was sent with supplies including chainsaws, satellite phones and a helicopter.

A Hercules aircraft arrives in Funafuti, Tuvalu.

An Australian Air Force Hercules aircraft. Photo: RNZ / Jamie Tahana

Both Mr Peters and Ms Payne said strict protocols would be applied to minimise the chance of Covid-19 being spread to Vanuatu. Port Vila has maintained that its border closure would be maintained in the aftermath of Cyclone Harold, with aid to be handed over to local organisations.

Meanwhile, Vanuatu's government on Thursday night announced a second state of emergency to cover Cyclone Harold, on top of the one declared to respond to the coronavirus.

However, with no confirmed cases, the government on Friday opted to relax internal restrictions.

Some limitations on gathering and domestic travel had already been eased in the wake of the cyclone, to allow people to seek shelter, but now, schools will reopen on Tuesday and locals are allowed to congregate again.

Other restrictions on the movement of people have also been lifted, and businesses will be allowed to return to normal operating hours, albeit with strict hygiene and social distancing measures.

Easter church services will also be allowed, but distancing measures must be applied.