Cyclone Pam’s path of destruction

Emergencies article written on the 14 Mar 2015

Tropical Cyclone Pam

Cyclone Pam, a massive category 5 cyclone has torn a path of destruction through the small Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu. In its wake it has left the community the huge task of rebuilding wrecked lives. Oxfam has a team based in the country and is ready to respond to support the people of Vanuatu.

Oxfam’s country director for Vanuatu, Colin Collett Van Rooyen, gives a harrowing account of what it is like to face up to a cyclone of this size and ferocity.

“IT was riveting, extremely frightening and emotional. We didn’t know if the shelter we had would stay in place. Buildings were vibrating. Roofs were being ripped off. The noise was spectacular, the rumbling, the growling, it was like nothing I have ever heard.”

“I do know that of a compound of five houses in Naneatri, four houses have gone,” he said. “We have no power or running water and are still not able to move around freely. I can see strong wave activity in Port Vila Bay. There are strong winds and persistent rain however the conditions have eased a lot since last night.”

So far there has been little information from some of the more remote islands and there is concern that the communities there have been badly affected.

“We have heard nothing from the islands, so people are just waiting,” said Colin Collett Van Rooyen.

The National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) in Vanuatu has made an initial assessment of the damage and it is clear that the people of Vanuatu will need significant help in the coming weeks.

First observations from the NDMO include:

  • Serious damage in Port Vila
  • Airport is closed and runway flooded – public works clearing airport now
  • Roads blocked from debris
  • Some bridges down in places
  • Power is out, national broadcasting service out, power to town is out
  • NDMO emergency comms radio room working and still sending broadcasts
  • Hospital damaged
  • 26 evacuation centres registered and operational and a few additional informal ones open @ last minute –expecting these to be open for 2 weeks
  • Four fatalities reported in port vila to date
  • Red alert still in place as there are still heavy rains and high winds
  • Communications to outer islands down – access to information limited

“It’s quite clear people had no idea how to imagine a cat 5 cyclone,” said Colin Collett Van Rooyen. “They have experienced a cat 2 or 3, they are used to it, but last night three storey high trees were being uprooted, palm trees completely shredded and roofs ripped from homes.”