Cyclone Harold pounds Vanuatu, virtually levelling one island
Share this article:
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
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
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.