6 Apr 2020

Vanuatu already feeling force of Cyclone Harold

From Checkpoint, 5:43 pm on 6 April 2020

A category five cyclone - the largest possible - is set for a direct hit on Vantuatu's largest island, Santo, within the next hour, with hundreds already seeking shelter in evacuation centres.

Cyclone Harold has been effectively stalled off Vanuatu's central islands for much of the past day, growing in strength and size as it slowly makes its way towards land.

The cyclone is already causing widespread flooding and those on the ground say things are going from bad to worse.

World Vision's Kendra Derousseau is in Port Vila. She told Checkpoint as it got dark it was still relatively calm but the wind was picking up. 

"It's nothing in comparison to what's happening in the north of the country." 

The storm is more compact than Cyclone Pam - which devastated the island nation in 2015 - but it is also a category five storm, which could have disastrous impacts on Vanuatu's second largest city Luganville, she said. 

"One third of the entire population is highly likely to be affected.

"The Vanuatu government has done a wonderful job preparing the people. Tropical Cyclone Pam has certainly taught us all lots of lessons."

Warnings have been issued through the national disaster management office for several days, she said. 

"They have been able to put out evacuation orders and adapt those in light of social distancing procedures due to the threat of Covid-19."

Vanuatu has not yet had any confirmed Covid-19 cases. The government has banned gatherings larger than five, established a 9pm curfew, and most non-essential services have been closed or significantly reduced. 

"However the national disaster management office put out excellent guidance from yesterday that social distancing guidelines would not apply for evacuation shelters, because the immediate threat to life due to the cyclone is a stronger imperative." 

The storm hit Vanuatu's city of Luganville late on Monday afternoon. 

"My World Vision team, I have 25 staff located there, and I am no longer able to contact them at this time," Derousseau told Checkpoint.