Cyclone Lola has left a trail of destruction in Vanuatu’s northern provinces after making landfall on Tuesday. Communications outages have hampered efforts to assess the full scale of the devastation, leaving authorities concerned about the extent of the damage. World Vision’s Vanuatu country director, Kendra Derousseau, expressed fears of significant losses in terms of shelter, livelihoods, and food security, with the potential for loss of life being the most devastating consequence.
The impact of Cyclone Lola has been compared to that of Cyclone Harold in 2020, described as a scene of devastation akin to having an entire island “put through a blender.” Communications remain down, making some areas, including Pentecost Island in Penama, unreachable. Cyclone Lola struck Vanuatu while the country was still in the process of recovering from twin cyclones in March, dealing a severe blow to the agricultural sector, which was just beginning to rebound.
Teams will be deployed to assess the damage by Wednesday afternoon, offering assistance to those in urgent need. Despite the cyclone season arriving a month earlier than usual, Vanuatu had been prepared with an “excellent advance warning system.”
In response to the crisis, Kendra Derousseau called upon New Zealand and Australia to support aid relief efforts by partnering with charities on the ground, including the Red Cross, Save the Children, and World Vision, which are collaborating with the Vanuatu government to provide immediate relief to the hardest-hit areas.
Cyclone Lola is expected to impact the capital, Port Vila, with gale force and storm force winds before heading towards Malekula Island and New Caledonia. The cyclone’s changing direction and potential for storm force winds in Port Vila add to the uncertainty.
The National Disaster Management Office plans to deploy teams to the affected areas in the northern part of the country on Wednesday.
The Red Cross in Vanuatu credited its field workers for saving lives by warning communities to prepare for Cyclone Lola. Although the cyclone was downgraded to a category three, it still poses a threat with gusting winds up to 205km/h. Torba and Penama provinces are believed to have suffered the most severe damage, and up to 25,000 people have been critically affected so far.
People who sought shelter in evacuation centers were advised to bring food, basic supplies, and safe drinking water to last several days. Shelter and access to clean drinking water are expected to be major concerns in the days ahead.
Ram from the Red Cross noted that communication had been maintained with their northern branch province, but contact had been lost since the network went down. Shelter and clean drinking water access are priorities, and communication with the most affected communities is vital to assess the extent of the damage and identify their immediate needs.
In Port Vila, businesses, schools, and shops remained closed, reflecting the preparedness that allowed people to evacuate, potentially saving lives. Cyclone Lola is the fourth cyclone to hit the region in the past three years, underscoring the need for continued disaster preparedness and international assistance to help communities recover from these devastating events.