3 Mar 2023

PM in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu declares state of emergency

9:06 pm on 3 March 2023
This handout picture taken on March 1 and released by Oliver Blinks through his Instagram handle @blinnx shows a road blocked by an uprooted tree after Cyclone Judy made landfall in Port Vila.

This handout picture taken on March 1 and released by Oliver Blinks through his Instagram handle @blinnx shows a road blocked by an uprooted tree after Cyclone Judy made landfall in Port Vila. Photo: AFP PHOTO / OLIVER BLINKS INSTAGRAM @BLINNX

A state of emergency has been declared for areas of Vanuatu impacted most by severe tropical cyclone Judy.

It comes as the country deals with a second cyclone, called Kevin, which is bearing down on the country.

Destructive winds are forecast, gusting to 185km/h within 35 nautical miles of the centre of the cyclone.

Red alerts are in place for Sanma, Malampa, and Penama, with damaging gale force winds expected to affect those provinces within the next 12 hours.

Yellow alerts are in place for Torba and Shefa.

Meanwhile, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake has struck just offshore of Vanuatu.

The US Geological Survey reports the quake struck just after 5am local time, and was 10km deep.

No tsunami warning has been issued.

Action plan announced by PM

Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau said declaring a state of emergency will allow the islands most affected by Judy to receive help immediately.

"I am pleased to announce that the Council of Ministers has met this afternoon (Thursday) and it has approved a request from the National Disaster Committee to ask the President of the Republic of Vanuatu to declare a State of Emergency for the islands that have been highly affected and impacted by Tropical Cyclone Judy - effective this evening.

"We have had two opportunities to meet with our partners and I am pleased to reveal everyone that has approached us are standing by to assist us in regard to conducting assessments and a quick response and whatever we require them to help us with.

"Therefore, on behalf of the people of Vanuatu and the Government, I want to say to all these people thank you so much. To all our development partners who even as the Tropical Cyclone [Judy] started to approach us had already reached out and said they were standing by and ready to assist us.

"Our officials are working around the clock to try and assess the impact of the cylone [Judy] on all the provinces in the country. At this stage they are still compiling an official report that we will be able to work with and which will enable our development partners to appreciate the level of assistance that we will require from them.

"As we speak aerial assessments are being undertaken along with other assessments on the ground to enable us to declare disaster zones in areas that are highly affected."

He said development partners have also offered help with assessments or quick responses to the most affected communities, or any help required by the Vanuatu government.

Photo: Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department

Port Vila-based Journalist Dan McGarry said Cyclone Judy hit Tanna far stronger than when she hit Port Vila.

He said from the images he has seen it looks like there has been massive flooding, leaving large mud flows along the main road between the airport and Lenakel, the island's commercial centre.

Aid group 'gearing up' to help

The country director for World Vision Vanuatu, Kendra Derousseau, said they stand ready to help in the recovery.

"We are gearing up for some key response areas that we know happen after severe cyclones.

"That is emergency shelter provisions, such as tarps and also hammers and nails, and also hygiene kits to ensure that basic needs are met, as well as jerry cans so families can have access to clean water. And we will be standing by ready to go with those when the government approves us to respond," she said.

Derousseau said said while the capital Port Vila lost power its water service was quickly restored.

She said most of the city's infrastructure appears to have stood up to the storm but not some residential housing.

"So anyone who was living in either a tradtional house with a thatched roof or a less sturdy house than those with cyclone strapping and nailing would have suffered significant damage to their houses."

Derousseau said the big concern now is Cyclone Kevin expected to arrive midday Friday in Port Vila.

Meanwhile, 11 babies from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Vila Central Hospital have a new refuge following damage caused by Cyclone Judy.

The babies have been moved to the former outpatient section in tho colonial hospital after the ceiling in the maternity Ward was damaged, causing leaks, making the ward unsafe for the babies in incubators.

There were also leaks in the children's wards forcing a similar evacuation.

Over 400 people in Port Vila and Efate in Vanuatu have been evacuated since Cyclone Judy hit on Wednesday.

They were evacuated by Vanuatu Police to 3 different evacuation centres in the capital - the Vanuatu Christian Council of Churches centre, the Anglican Church and the Wan Smol Bag Theatre buildings.

Most are being housed at Wan Smol Bag.

The Red Cross has been supplying food and other essentials.

The NDMO said that they expected that the number of evacuees will increase.

The houses of some evacuees were destroyed by the cyclone, others were uninhabitable because of flooding.

Cyclone pre-alert level is still active for New Caledonia as authorities warn the population of Kevin's arrival.

"Kevin will most likely have a different trajectory. Those are two different systems and they will not act the same, Kevin is expected to come a bit closer. We need to stay vigilant, we need to stay in pre-alert level and people need to stay informed, the behaviour of the second cyclone could be different," said the territory's Civil Defence.

On Friday wind gusts are expected to reach 60 to 70km/h for the north and southern points of the territory and up to 80 to 100km/h for the Loyalty Islands.

Scenes of devastation on Epi Island

Scenes of devastation on Epi Island Photo: Malon Taun