Vanuatu residents ‘exhausted’ after two wild cyclones in three days

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Port Vila-based journalist Dan McGarry has a big clean up on his hands
Port Vila-based journalist Dan McGarry has a big clean up on his hands, this cyclone Kevin-ravaged mess is at the end of his laneway. Image: Dan McGarry/RNZ Pacific

RNZ Pacific

Ni-Vanuatu residents have emerged battered but still standing after Cyclone Kevin swiped the country with a strong backhand.

“It was quite exhausting. Dealing with two cyclones in three days is pretty draining, you know,” Vanuatu journalist Dan McGarry told RNZ Pacific.

He said the gale-force winds have been rough. He woke early on Saturday morning to try and get a sense of the extent of the damage.

He went outside in the dark to charge his phone, and when the sun came up it was a real eyesore.

“Our own laneway is blocked off. We’ve got tree limbs all the way up and down,” he said.

After clearing the way, he was able to get out and about and have a look around.

Port Vila had been badly knocked about. McGarry came across a mango tree that landed directly on top of a minibus.

“And then the wind lifted the entire tree and dumped it a metre-and-a-half away,” he said.

Fuel was in short supply and a boil water order was in effect, McGarry said.

Many people were at the few hardware stores that were open, trying to buy tools to repair their properties, he said.

Cyclone Kevin and Cyclone Judy as pictured on Earth Nullschool on Saturday March 4.
Cyclone Kevin and Cyclone Judy as pictured on Earth Nullschool today. Image: Nullschool/RNZ Pacific

On Saturday evening, the Fiji Meteorological Office said the severe tropical storm remained a category five, and was centred in the ocean near Conway Reef.

Tafea province in Vanuatu, which was under a red alert as Kevin tracked south-east, had been given the all clear.

An Australian Air Force reconnaissance flight over Tafea province was reported to have shown some intact settlements and still some greenery.

No casualties had been immediately reported but hundreds of people fled to evacuation centres in the capital Port Vila, where Kevin blasted through as a category four storm.

Foreign aid needed
Vanuatu needs support from its international partners.

“There is going to be a significant need — this is not something Vanuatu can do alone, so the assistance of these partners is going to be critical to a speedy and effective response,” McGarry said.

He believed cooperation from donor partners was needed. France has already received a request to send a patrol plane, he said.

“I expect that New Zealand would be putting a P3 in the air before very long. Australia has already committed to sending a rapid assessment team.”

Stephen Meke, tropical cyclone forecaster with the Fiji Meteorological Service, said cyclone response teams and aid workers wanting to help should plan to travel to Vanuatu from Sunday onwards, as the weather system is forecast to lose momentum then.

“Kevin intensified into a category four system,” Meke said. “It was very close to just passing over Tanna. So it’s expected to continue diving southeastwards as a category four, then the weakening from from tomorrow onwards.”

A UNICEF spokesperson said its team was preparing to ship essential emergency supplies from Fiji in addition to emergency supplies already prepositioned in Vanuatu.

“These include tents, tarpaulins, education, and health supplies to support immediate response needs in the aftermath of the two devastating cyclones.”

New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was working with the Vanuatu government and partners to see what help it could offer.

An MFAT spokesperson said New Zealand had first-hand experience of the challenges Vanuatu faced in the coming days and weeks. It had been challenging making contact with people because of damaged communications systems, they said.

Sixty-three New Zealanders are registered on the SafeTravel website as being in Vanuatu.

UNICEF is preparing to ship tents, tarpaulins, education, and health supplies to support immediate response needs on the ground.
UNICEF was preparing to ship tents, tarpaulins, education, and health supplies to support immediate response needs on the ground. Image: UNICEF/RNZ Pacific

Parts of Vanuatu have plunged into a six-month-long state of emergency.

Evacuations in Port Vila
The Fiji Meteorological Office said Port Vila experienced the full force of Kevin’s winds. Evacuations took place in the capital.

McGarry said he knew of one family that had to escape their property and shelter at a separate home.

“The entire group spent the entire night standing in the middle of the room because the place is just drenched with water.

“So it’s been an uncomfortable night for many, and possibly quite a dangerous one for some.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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