Cyclone Harold brings strong winds in Luganville, Vanuatu, in this still image obtained from a social media video. Picture: Adra Vanuatu/Social Media via Reuters
Cyclone Harold brings strong winds in Luganville, Vanuatu, in this still image obtained from a social media video. Picture: Adra Vanuatu/Social Media via Reuters

Cyclone Harold pounds Vanuatu, virtually levelling one island

By Byron Kaye Time of article published Apr 6, 2020

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Sydney - 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.

Reuters

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