Vanuatu already feeling force of Cyclone Harold

Cheryl Sanders
April 6, 2020

Tropical Cyclone Harold hit the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on Monday after sweeping through the Solomon Islands last week, leaving 27 dead after they were washed from a ferry that ignored weather warnings.

"Damaging gale force winds, destructive storm force winds and hurricane force winds with heavy rainfalls and flash flooding over low lying areas and areas close to river banks including coastal flooding is expected over Sanma, Malampa and Penama Provinces and extending to Torba and Shefa tonight", the statement said.

Cyclone Harold is now heading towards Vanuatu.

The weather forecaster said with the current track, TC Harold is expected to track to the southwest of the Fiji group this Wednesday or Thursday.

"For now, we don't have any reports of injury, but lots of damage", Red Cross Vanuatu secretary general Jacqueline de Gaillande told AFP.

The Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are among the few countries with no reported cases of the virus.

The island chain was hit hard in 2015 by Cyclone Pam, a category 5 cyclone that pummelled the capital Port Vila and other islands.

The nation has sealed its worldwide borders to avoid the virus but emergency measures including bans on public meetings have been temporarily suspended so people can gather in evacuation centres.

The victims were swept off a ferry that defied cyclone warnings.

It flattened Port Vila, killed 11 people and left a swathe of destruction that the World Bank estimated wiped out nearly two-thirds of Vanuatu's economic capacity.

The Prime Minister says this morning, Tropical Cyclone Harold intensified into a category five cyclone, with Vanuatu in its immediate path, with parts of Fiji also at risk.

"I would like to thank everyone. involved in the search for the missing 27 people so far as we try as much as possible to find the bodies so their grieving relatives can give them a proper burial", chief superintendent Richard Menapi said.

Vanuatu has reported no cases of the new coronavirus but has nonetheless declared a state of emergency, banned most worldwide 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 almost 1.3 million people and resulted in about 70,000 deaths globally.

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