15 Apr 2020

‘As if it was bombed’: Vanuatu’s Pentecost devastated by Cyclone Harold

4:30 pm on 15 April 2020

Vanuatu's Pentecost is in desperate need of aid after Tropical Cyclone Harold devastated the island.

Cyclone Harold's destruction at Melsisi, Pentecost.

Cyclone Harold's destruction at Melsisi, Pentecost. Photo: Vanuatu Daily Post / Albert Vireibo

Two people from Pentecost are reported to have died as a result of the cyclone. Four deaths in total have been linked to the cyclone in Vanuatu.

After wreaking havoc in Solomon Islands, the category-five storm smashed into Vanuatu last week before bringing more destruction to Fiji and Tonga.

The Vanuatu islands of Espiritu Santo and Pentecost were particularly hard hit.

The Vanuatu Daily Post reported a 90-year-old woman died on Pentecost after the roof of her house in Lekaro village was torn off by the cyclone.

A falling concrete wall killed another woman at Melsisi. She had taken refuge with her family in a church hall where many others had sought shelter.

Its roof was also torn off and as the people left the building the woman was struck by falling concrete.

The Melsisi Catholic Church was ruined by Tropical Cyclone Harold.

The Melsisi Catholic Church was ruined by Tropical Cyclone Harold. Photo: Vanuatu Daily Post / Hilaire Bule

Unconscious, she was transported to Vila Central Hospital on Thursday 9 April before succumbing to her injury on Saturday.

The Daily Post reported the Melsisi Catholic Church, considered the biggest church in Vanuatu, was also destroyed.

Pentecost devastated

Thousands of homes have reportedly been wrecked on Pentecost along with its main medical centres.

People from the island living in Vanuatu's capital have set up the Port Vila Pentecost Disaster Committee to coordinate their own relief efforts.

Its president, Ian Baltor, said the response from the Red Cross and the National Disaster Management office was too slow.

A man searches the wreckage of his house in Ranwas, Pentecost.

A man searches the wreckage of his house in Ranwas, Pentecost. Photo: The Tanbok Project / Dickson Tari

"What we had noticed, which is very sad and very unfortunate, is that the response which we expected from the two bodies was very late," he said.

"They have dropped off some relief packages but that was after a week. To me that is too long."

Mr Baltor said he could not find the words to describe the scale of the damage on Pentecost, particularly in the south "which hosted the eye of the cyclone".

Others in Port Vila, like Loyd Warri from Ranwas in the south east of Pentecost, have also been sending supplies home.

"Our community is remote. It's up in the hills so yesterday we chartered a helicopter to go over there and today we put things on a charter flight because we can't wait for the government," he said.

The helicopter took rice to Ranwas where a community guest-house that Mr Warri helps to run was "written off" by the cyclone.

"The whole place looks as if it was bombed."

A house flattened by Cylcone Harold in Ranwas.

A house flattened by Cylcone Harold in Ranwas. Photo: The Tanbok Project / Dickson Tari

For the charter flight, Mr Warri helped to load tarpaulins and water cans onto the aircraft.

"Shelter was our main priority, shelter and water."

But with fallen trees blocking roads around Pentecost, distributing aid from the island's airport will be a challenge.

"A boat will take it from the airport and then go drop it somewhere on the coast," Mr Warri said.

"They've got chainsaws over there so we put fuel. They will bring the chainsaws, get the supplies, put the fuel in and cut their way back to the village."

Government public relations officer Hilaire Bule visited Pentecost last weekend and told the Daily Post people there needed food and clean water.

A building without its roof in Ranwas, Pentecost.

A building without its roof in Ranwas, Pentecost. Photo: The Tanbok Project Dickson Tari

"The only ship that went to Pentecost on Saturday carried relief supplies donated by Red Cross. The items included non-food items such as shelter kits, cooking utensils and blankets which was appreciated by the people," he said.

The damage in central Pentecost was worse than that inflicted by Cyclone Pam in 2015, Mr Bule said.

In the south of the island people are now afraid of landslides, he said.

Mr Warri said a group of about 60 people at Londar in south Pentecost was lucky to have survived the cyclone.

"They hid under the church and it flew away. All the other houses had flown so the men stood around in a circle and the women and children stood in the middle.

"They stood there until the morning in the rain and the wind."