Cyclone Lola lashes Vanuatu's northern provinces

8:20 pm on 25 October 2023
Port Vila residents preparing for Cyclone Lola.

Photo: RNZ Pacific / Hilaire Bule

Reports are emerging of widespread damage in Vanuatu's northern provinces, where Cyclone Lola first made landfall on Tuesday

Due to communications outages, the full scale of destruction is unknown,

World Vision Vanuatu country director Kendra Derousseau said they were expecting the worst.

There had been unverified reports of destruction on Pentecost Island in Penama "being bad or worse than Cyclone Harold," she said.

Derousseau had experienced the devastation of Cyclone Harold in 2020 first hand.

"It was devastating and looked like the island had been put through a blender."

She believed there would be significant loss of shelter, livelihoods and food security following Cyclone Lola. "Loss of life would be the worst," she said.

She said communication lines were still down and parts of the northern provinces, including Pentecost Island in Penama, had been unreachable.

Severe Cyclone Lola swept through Vanuatu at a time when the country was already recovering from twin cyclones in March.

"Agriculture was just bouncing back but now they are destroyed again."

The extent of the damage will be made clear by Wednesday afternoon, when teams will be deployed to help those most in need.

Although cyclone season has come a month early, Derousseau said the country was prepared and had an "excellent advance warning system".

She urged New Zealand and Australia to help with aid relief in the coming days by supporting charities on the ground like Red Cross, Save the Children and World Vision.

These NGOs would be partnering with the Vanuatu government to send immediate relief to the worst affected areas.

Meanwhile, Lola expected to hit the capital Port Vila with gale force and storm force winds, before moving past Malekula Island on Wednesday and heading towards New Caledonia.

Acting manager of weather forecast Helen Luke said the cyclone kept changing its direction.

She added that Port Vila may receive storm force winds if the cyclone moved in the south-southeast direction.

The National Disaster Management Office is expected to deploy teams to affected areas in the northern part of the country on Wednesday.

Warnings saved lives, Red Cross says

Port Vila residents preparing for Cyclone Lola

Red Cross' Soneel Ram said people were ready for the cyclone due to awareness messaging. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Hilaire Bule

The Red Cross in Vanuatu believes sending field workers into communities to warn people to get ready for Cyclone Lola has saved lives.

The storm was still a category four and five storm when it hit the islands, the fourth cyclone to hit the region in the last three years.

The provinces of Torba and Penama are believed to have suffered the worst damage but communication was lost to the area last night and has not yet been restored.

It is estimated up to 25,000 people have been critically affected so far.

Lola has since been downgraded to category three but the winds are still expected to gust up to 205km/h.

Soneel Ram from the Red Cross is in Port Vila where he said there had been strong winds and rain since about 8pm last night.

Red Cross was in touch with its northern branch province at about 9pm yesterday but had not heard from them since, he said.

"The last update we got from them was in Torba and Penama provinces they have seen quite extensive damage to houses and also to infrastructure and also to schools as well. This also includes damage to roads where fallen branches have damaged roads and we're also looking at fallen branches on homes as well."

Some houses had been completely destroyed and the roofs of the schools had been blown away, he said.

Ram said people were ready for the cyclone due to the awareness messaging and they were able to move to evacuation centres where they are seeking shelter.

Tropical Cyclone Lola over Vanuatu as seen in satellite imagery at 11am (NZ time) on 25 October, 2023.

Cyclone Lola over Vanuatu. Photo: Supplied / Vanuatu Meteorology

People going to evacuation centres would have been advised to take food and basic supplies including safe drinking water to last them for a few days, he said.

Once an assessment had been made they would be able to determine the next phase, he said.

Communications were still working in Port Vila but no contact had been made with Penama and Torba provinces since last night because the network was down, he said.

Shelter and access to clean safe drinking water would be of major concern in the coming days, he said.

"Because of the tenacity of the cyclone some water sources would have been destroyed so access to clean safe drinking water would also be a major issue for these communities."

Torbai and Penama would have felt the full brunt of the cyclone and the most pressing issue in the next few hours was gaining contact with them to ascertain the extent of the damage and determine what needs communities there had, he said.

In the capital, Port Vila businesses, schools and shops were still closed, he said.

He said there was a good level of disaster preparedness which allowed people to evacuate and likely saved lives.