Vanuatu has been hit by two Category 4 cyclones in the space of 24 hours, affecting hundreds of thousands of people. Cyclone Kevin brought gale-force winds and torrential rain to the Pacific nation, which was already battling its second large cyclone in a week. The country had been clearing roads and restoring power lines cut by Cyclone Judy, which hit the capital Port Vila on Wednesday, cutting power and forcing some residents to evacuate. As Cyclone Kevin approached, residents were jolted early on Friday by twin earthquakes and told to hunker down. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that hundreds of thousands of people in Vanuatu were estimated to be affected by the two massive Category 4 cyclones.
The government declared a state of emergency on Friday and Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau said officials were working to assess the damage. UNICEF Pacific said it was deeply concerned about the effects of two cyclones on vulnerable children and was working with the government to respond to urgent needs of families. The UN agency also said it was shipping emergency supplies to Vanuatu from Fiji to support disaster relief.
Cyclone Kevin passed over the capital late on Friday and was moving across the southern island province of Tafea on Saturday morning, bringing wind gusts above 230km per hour. A red alert was in effect for Tafea province, home to just more than 30,000 people, according to the National Disaster Management Office. All boats were advised to avoid going to sea. Winds were expected to weaken over the next six to 12 hours as Cyclone Kevin continues moving southeast, away from Vanuatu.
Adding to the nation’s woes, magnitude 6.5 and 5.4 earthquakes were reported on Friday but there were no immediate reports of casualties. The situation on outlying islands remains unclear. “People on (Espiritu) Santo felt the earthquake but couldn’t go outside to assess the damage because of the high winds,” Dickinson Tevi, secretary general of the Vanuatu Red Cross Society told AFP.
“Access to affected communities has been hampered as most roads have been damaged and fallen power lines have also caused power outages, making communication to remote communities difficult. Tanna island in the province of Tafea is expected to be the worst affected,” Tevi said later in a statement.
Disaster response agencies are braced for further damage from Cyclone Kevin and a long recovery ahead. Australia said it would send a 12-person assessment team to Vanuatu along with emergency supplies like shelters and water purification equipment. The Royal Australian Air Force will also help with aerial damage assessments.