Cyclone Pam: Howling winds, frightened children

Published: 17 March 2015 5:00 CET

By Hanna Butler, IFRC/New Zealand Red Cross

When cyclone Pam made landfall on the archipelago of Vanuatu, the night was dark and sombre. It took only a few hours before the wind started to frenetically shake houses and trees, destroying everything in its path.

Flying into Port Vila, the capital city of Vanuatu, the damages are striking. What usually looks like a lush green tropical Pacific island now looks barren and brown. Trees have been stripped of their leaves, and most of the houses which are still standing have lost their roofs. Those that were not built with concrete have almost all disappeared, as if they had never existed. Driving through Port Vila, houses are flattened and even concrete structures are damaged.

“It was very scary. This is the strongest cyclone I have experienced in my life” says Jack Kalo Alick, 36, who lives in Port Vila. “I even asked my mother if she had ever seen something like that. She said no, not even cyclone Uma.” Cyclone Uma struck Vanuatu in February 1987 killing 50 people in its path.

The water supply which was disrupted by Cyclone Pam, is now restored in the capital, but there is still no electricity and the communication network is still very problematic. The biggest problem now is  possibly access to food as all the crops and gardens are destroyed, leaving people with the only option of buying their food, which will inevitably result in dramatic price increase.

For now Jack will have to do with what he has until he can find a longer-term solution to provide food for his family. But Jack and his family will also have to face the psychological trauma of experiencing the fury of Pam.

“The wind was howling outside and my children were screaming inside.  It was like a monster waking up and shaking our house,” said Jack.

Jack’s house is partially made of concrete. It is the only reason why it is still up. Thirty people took refuge in his house, including his three daughters, his wife, two brothers and two sisters. His neighbours were not as fortunate, as they have lost everything they owned, all blown away by the vicious winds.

While the first assessments are reporting that more than half of the population of the country is directly affected by the cyclone, life is already taking over in the streets of Port Vila. People are already cleaning the streets, saving what can be rescued, starting to rebuild their houses. As of today, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has launched an emergency appeal for 3.2 million Swiss francs to support 60,000 people affected by the cyclone. The Red Cross is committed to helping provide long-term support to help affected communities recover and rebuild their lives.

For a link to the Emergency Appeal, click here


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