Cyclone Harold tears through Vanuatu, bears toward Fiji
The powerful cyclone made landfall on Monday in Sana province, an island north of Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila, with winds as high as 235 kilometres an hour (146 miles per hour) knocking out communications overnight, according to reports by the government’s disaster and weather bureaus.
The province of Sana sits on the biggest of Vanuatu’s 80 islands and is home to its second-most populous city, Luganville, where photos circulated on social media purported to show buildings flattened by the storm.
The winds blew roofs off houses, tore down trees and destroyed a council building in Luganville, which has a population of 16,000, according to a Radio New Zealand report.
Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office said in a social media post that officials were expected to survey the area later in the day to assess the damage.
Gusts were expected to drop to 110 km per hour (68 mph) as the system tracks south east away from Vanuatu later on Tuesday, and approaches Fiji, Vanuatu’s weather bureau said.
Fijian authorities issued a tropical cyclone alert for some of its southern islands.
Cyclone Harold is expected to skirt the main island of Viti Levu, coming around 230 km from the main transport hub of Nadi, about 6:00 a.m on Wednesday (1800 GMT Tuesday), Fiji’s weather bureau said.
The alert was in force for islands further south including Lomaiviti and the Southern Lau Group. A strong wind warning and damaging heavy swell warnings are in place for the country. Fiji’s meteorological bureau also warned of the risk of flash floods. (Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
Cyclone pounds Vanuatu, levelling buildings, amid virus shutdown
By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY (Reuters) – A powerful tropical cyclone made landfall on the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on Monday, witnesses said, levelling buildings in a country already in a state of emergency due to concerns about the coronavirus.
Cyclone Harold approached Sanma province, an island north of the capital Port Vila, with winds of up to 215 km (133 miles) per hour about 1 pm local time (0200 GMT), as the country of 276,000 people bunkered down.
There were no immediate reports of injuries. The cyclone was upgraded to a Category 5 as it approached, the highest category.
„There is lots of damage in Sanma, they lost lots of buildings,” said Jacqueline de Gaillande, CEO of Vanuatu Red Cross, by telephone from the capital Port Vila where the cyclone was expected to hit overnight.
The province of Sanmar sits on the biggest of Vanuatu’s 80 islands and is home to its second-most populous city, Luganville, where photos circulated on social media purported to show buildings flattened by the storm.
„We don’t know if we can provide any supports to the island because we are not allowed to travel inter-island and we are waiting for the government to make that decision,” added de Gaillande, referring to travel restrictions associated with the coronavirus.
Vanuatu has reported no cases of the new coronavirus but has nonetheless declared a state of emergency, banned most international and domestic air travel and limited public gatherings to five people as it tries to prevent a local outbreak of the flu-like illness that has infected nearly 1.3 million people and resulted in about 70,000 deaths globally.
The Pacific region has recorded about 60 confirmed cases of the illness and one death, in Guam, according to media reports.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp reported that Vanuatu officials had relaxed social distancing rules over the weekend because of concern about the cyclone. Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office was not immediately available for comment on Monday.A day earlier, Solomon Islands police said they retrieved five bodies in their search for 27 people who were swept off a ferry by the cyclone as it passed over the country.The MV Taimareho set sail early on Friday in strong winds with 738 passengers including crew and the captain on board. Police said the missing were believed to have fallen off during heavy seas.Vanuatu, and the province of Sanma in particular, was hit hard in 2015 by the Category 5 Cyclone Pam that pummelled the capital Port Vila and other islands.(Reporting by Byron Kaye; editing by Richard Pullin)
A cyclone bringing winds of 135mph (215km/h) has arrived in the Pacific nation of Vanuatu.
Cyclone Harold is a category five storm – the most severe – and has already killed 27 people in the neighbouring Solomon Islands.
The victims were swept off a ferry that defied cyclone warnings.
Vanuatu, home to around 300,000 people, is already in a state of emergency because of the coronavirus – and is awaiting general election results.
The storm is particularly affecting Sanma province, home to the country’s second biggest city, Luganville.
Although there have been no injuries reported, photos showed roofs blown off buildings and power lines brought down. Some people took shelter in caves.
„There is lots of damage in Sanma, they lost lots of buildings,” Jacqueline de Gaillande, chief executive of Vanuatu Red Cross, told Reuters.
The Vanuatu meteorology department recorded winds of 135mph in Sanma but said gusts – which are less sustained – were reaching 145mph (235km/h).
A major international effort was needed after the last category five storm – Cyclone Pam – hit Vanuatu in 2015.
Although Vanuatu has no confirmed Covid-19 cases, it declared a state of emergency last month, soon after the country voted in a general election.
The counting of the votes was live-streamed, as social distancing rules made it difficult to have enough observers in one room.
Unofficial results have been published, with official results due soon.
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On Sunday, police in the Solomon Islands said five of the 27 bodies lost in the ferry disaster had been recovered.
The MV Taimareho set sail in strong winds with more than 700 people on board, reportedly as part of a virus evacuation programme.
The ship was initially thought to have just 60 people on board.