Cyclone Pam batters Vanuatu

As cyclone Pam, a category 5 storm, makes landfall today on the pacific islandsof Vanuatu, humanitarian workers there say the urban poor are especially at risk.

High winds and rains are lashing the islands, and news agencies reported that even solid hotel buildings in the capital, Port Vila, were being shaken by the cyclone, which meteorologists say could unleash gusts of up to 280 km/h.

“Thousands of families are living in makeshift, flimsy houses which will not withstand the immense winds and rain we're expecting,” Save the Children's Vanuatu director,Tom Skirrow, was quoted as saying. “Families need to urgently evacuate to safe buildings or the results could be catastrophic.”

Aid agencies and the National Disaster Management Office had pre-positioned relief supplies in Port Vila, and “we were fairly confident we had enough to cope”, deputy head of the regional Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Vincent Umuga, told IRIN by phone from Fiji. 

But on Friday cyclone Pam’s track turned west, directly for the capital, which “could mean our ability to respond is heavily compromised,” he said. The southern Pacific island nation has a population of 260,000.

Regional aid partners in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand have been alerted to the potential need “to increase supplies” said Umuga. But if the airport is damaged by the storm, “that would be the worst-case scenario”. All flights are currently suspended.

Vanuatu is an archipelago of over 80 islands with 1,300 kms between the two most distant points of the chain. A cyclone in 1987 killed over 30 people.

oa/rh