A state of emergency has been declared in Vanuatu following the damage to infrastructure and homes left by severe tropical cyclone Judy.
It comes as the country deals with a second cyclone, called Kevin, bears down on the country.
At 2am local time the category 2 cyclone was about 165km south-west of Santo and 225km west north-west of Malekula.
Red alerts are in place for Sanma, Malampa, and Penama, with damaging gale force winds expected to affect those provinces within the next 12 hours.
Yellow alerts are in place for Torba and Shefa.
Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau said declaring a state of emergency will allow the islands most affected by Judy to receive help immediately.
“I am pleased to announce that the Council of Ministers has met this afternoon (Thursday) and it has approved a request from the National Disaster Committee to ask the President of the Republic of Vanuatu to declare a State of Emergency for the islands that have been highly affected and impacted by Tropical Cyclone Judy – effective this evening(Thursday).
“We have had two opportunities to meet with our partners and I am pleased to reveal everyone that has approached us are standing by to assist us in regard to conducting assessments and a quick response and whatever we require them to help us with.
“Therefore, on behalf of the people of Vanuatu and the Government, I want to say to all these people thank you so much. To all our development partners who even as the Tropical Cyclone [Judy] started to approach us had already reached out and said they were standing by and ready to assist us.
“Our officials are working around the clock to try and assess the impact of the cylone [Judy] on all the provinces in the country. At this stage they are still compiling an official report that we will be able to work with and which will enable our development partners to appreciate the level of assistance that we will require from them.
“As we speak aerial assessments are being undertaken along with other assessments on the ground to enable us to declare disaster zones in areas that are highly affected.”
He said development partners have also offered help with assessments or quick responses to the most affected communities, or any help required by the Vanuatu government.
A tropical cyclone forecaster with the Fiji Meteorological Service Stephen Meke said Kevin is forecast to intensify bringing damaging gale force winds.
“It could even go further to a category three.”
“For now, we are maintaining it as a category two. We expect a lot of rain, severe flooding for flood prone areas, as well as expecting six to eight metre waves…even up to 10 metres,” he added.
The islands of Pentecost, Santo and Malekula have been issued warnings in anticipation of Cyclone Kevin.
“We are a resilient people. We will get through this,” PM Kalsakau told RNZ Pacific.
“God never forsakes his people. We are also very humbled and gratified by the generous support and kind gestures of our families around the Pacific and the world.”
Manager of Vanuatu Traveller and Tanna Adventures Greg Watt and his wife have been working with communities in Tanna for the last 15 years.
The couple are currently in New Zealand and said that they have not heard anything from the people and communities they have come to love.
“Today is going to be the worst day for them,” Watt said.
“I sent a message just telling them what is happening hoping they are all right.”
Watt said he is having flashbacks of Cyclone Pam, the second most intense tropical cyclone ever to form in the Southern Pacific Ocean, which tore up Tanna in 2015.
“When I got there [after Cyclone Pam] 90 percent of the homes were wiped out and 90 percent of all their crops and food were wiped out,” he said.
He is hoping that lessons were learnt from 2015 and the families he holds dearly, in the southern islands, make it through the wrath of Cyclone Kevin.
The government has confirmed that police and the national disaster management office have been” desperately trying to get connectivity back up and running as crews work at “breakneck speed” to get the grid back into shape.
Kalsakau told RNZ Pacific “the impacts are widespread” but the that the full scale of the damages will not be known until Saturday, when Cyclone Kevin is forecasted to pass the island’s waters.
“Much of the communications have been restored,” he said.
“It is difficult to try to get hold of people on Erramango and Tanna. We do not know whether the antennas are down or what, but once we get information we will be able to let everybody know.”
He added there is a lot damage on Efate island as well, where the capital Port Vila is located.
“We [were] working the whole day yesterday [Wednesday] and right until [Thursday] morning trying to try to sort everything out.”
So far, there have not been any reports of loss of life.
A journalist in Vanuatu Dan McGarry said the residents in Port Vila emerged relatively unscathed from Cyclone Judy.
“I think it is safe to say that the capital got through Cyclone Judy with relatively limited damage” he said.
“The clean-up is preparing rapidly as we prepare for tomorrow’s (Friday) repeat cyclone.”
The country director for World Vision Vanuatu, Kendra Derousseau, said they stand ready to help in the recovery.
“We are gearing up for some key response areas that we know happen after severe cyclones.
“That is emergency shelter provisions, such as tarps and also hammers and nails, and also hygiene kits to ensure that basic needs are met, as well as jerry cans so families can have access to clean water. And we will be standing by ready to go with those when the government approves us to respond,” she said.
Derousseau said said while the capital Port Vila lost power its water service was quickly restored.
She said most of the city’s infrastructure appears to have stood up to the storm but not some residential housing.
“If anyone who was living in either a traditional house with a thatched roof or a less sturdy house than those with cyclone strapping and nailing would have suffered significant damage to their houses.”
Derousseau said the big concern now is Cyclone Kevin expected to arrive midday Friday in Port Vila.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said on Thursday that the government was “watching the situation closely and will respond to Vanuatu’s requests for help where we can, in cooperation with our partners”
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS