7 Apr 2020

Cyclon Harold: Scale of destruction revealed in Vanuatu

From Checkpoint, 5:27 pm on 7 April 2020

With Cyclone Harold slowly moving away from Vanuatu, reports are slowly starting to emerge of the scale of destruction there. 

The Category 5 storm tore across the country's northern and central islands on Monday, with winds in excess of 230km/h. 

With phone services, internet and electricity severed to much of the country's north, it has proved difficult to ascertain just how bad things were for the tens of thousands of people who live in Harold's path. 

The storm struck Vanuatu's second-largest town, Luganville, where ships were shunted ashore, roofs torn off houses, and large buildings crumpled. 

The local MP Matai Seremaiah says the damage is extensive. 

The town is cut off from the rest of the big island, Santo, and reports from the rural areas are yet to come in. 

But they were flooded days in advance of the cyclone, and this is likely to have made things worse. 

The coordinator of the Vanuatu Climate Action Network, Willy Missack, says it's a worrying time as they wait to hear anything. 

The Luganville MP, Matai Seremaiah, says he managed to speak briefly with someone in the Big Bay area via satellite phone. 

They reported a grim tale. 

A spokesperson for Vanuatu's caretaker Prime Minister, Charlot Salwai, says the council of ministers is meeting, and a decision would be made on whether to ask for international help. 

That would involve relaxing the country's border restrictions, with the country effectively sealed off under a State of Emergency to prevent the spread of Covid-19 to Vanuatu. 

Conditions of the country's lockdown have already been relaxed to allow people to travel to seek shelter, and to congregate in evacuation centres - as hundreds did on Monday night. 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the government is primed and ready to assist, and she's asked for more information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.