Thousands of people have been greatly affected by the recent Category 5 Cyclone Lola in Vanuatu.

Making landfall on 26 October 2023, the cyclone has left a path of destruction with damage to houses, schools, infrastructure, plantations, and roads – making some of the most affected communities currently inaccessible to outside assistance.

The devastation left by the cyclone is immense, especially in the northern provinces of the country. Connectivity to these provinces – where the cyclone’s most destructive winds were felt at Category 5 – remains down.

Lola – the third cyclone for the country in seven months, has meant that communities only just beginning to recover from the twin cyclones, Judy and Kevin, are now reeling in the wake of their compounded impact.

Vanuatu Red Cross Society Secretary General, Dickinson Tevi, said: “From the information we have gathered, we believe some communities have suffered more damage than from Cyclone Harold in 2020, which was also a Category 5. The only difference is that Lola was very slow-moving – which meant more destruction in some places.

“Our Red Cross volunteers are part of these communities and are already in action. An initial rapid assessment in Torba, for example, came within hours of the cyclone passing yesterday. We are ready to be mobilized into other communities once we can gain access.

Our priority right now is to reach the worst affected areas with immediate relief items. Some of the reports coming back highlight the immediate need for temporary shelter. Some families have lost everything.”

Vanuatu Red Cross Society is ready to distribute immediate pre-positioned relief items such as tarpaulins for shelter, hygiene kits for washing and cleaning, solar lanterns, mosquito nets and cooking items.

Head of the IFRC Pacific Office, Katie Greenwood, said: “IFRC, together with Vanuatu Red Cross, has all hands-on deck, ready to mobilize support to Vanuatu Red Cross in whatever way is required.

“It is great to see, as bad as the damage appears to be, that preparedness and early warnings once again saved lives. Our local Red Cross teams are acting as swiftly as possible, through a coordinated approach with authorities, to reach the most affected people.

One of our greatest concerns, however, is that Cyclone Lola, an out-of-season Category 5 nightmare for the communities of Northern Vanuatu – has just sent an ‘Early Warning’ shot for this cyclone season to the country and its neighbours in the Blue Pacific. This season will likely have an above-average number of severe tropical cyclones (between 5 to 7) due to the heightened ferocity that can come with a forecasted ‘strong’ El Nino event. We are all on notice to prepare for what may lie ahead, said Greenwood.