Category 5 Cyclone Harold Hits Vanuatu

April 6, 2020

The slow-moving storm is battering an island nation already in a state of emergency due to COVID-19.

UPDATED April 7, 2020: As Tropical Cyclone Harold continues to leave a trail of destruction in its wake, UNICEF field teams estimate that 108,000 people, including 20,000 children, have been impacted in Vanuatu. Early reports indicate extensive damage to buildings, roads and communications systems. Power is down and children and families are currently taking shelter in caves and evacuation centers. The storm is expected to continue moving southeast, passing close to Fiji. UNICEF Pacific has prepositioned essential water, sanitation and hygiene supplies and tents to be used if necessary and is on standby to support the governments of Fiji and Vanuatu in any emergency response. A UNICEF response team will be travelling to the affected areas in the next couple of days, together with government officials, to assess the urgent needs of children and vulnerable communities. 

Tropical Cyclone Harold made landfall on the South Pacific island of Vanuatu on April 6, causing damage across the country with ferocious winds, heavy rainfall, flash floods and rough seas. The nation's 276,000 people are sheltering in place as the Category 5 storm moves slowly through the region. On April 3, Cyclone Harold killed 27 people, who were swept off a ferry in the neighboring Solomon Islands.

UNICEF Pacific has prepositioned essential water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) supplies and tents to be used if needed and is on standby to support the Government of Vanuatu in any emergency response. UNICEF is also sharing public safety messaging and updates via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. 

A response team from UNICEF Pacific will be travelling to the affected areas in the coming days, once the cyclone passes, to assess the immediate needs of children and families. 

Social media posts showed flattened buildings in the country's second largest city, Luganville. Power outages and flooding have made communications difficult in the hardest hit regions. The country was already in a state of emergency to prevent the spread of COVID-19, with borders closed to international arrivals and gatherings of more than five people banned. No cases of coronavirus have been reported there to date but the Pacific region has recorded about 60 cases and at least one death.

Cyclone Harold is the most powerful storm to hit Vanuatu since March 2015, when Cyclone Pam left an estimated two-thirds of the population — including 82,000 children — in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. UNICEF responded with emergency supplies, nutrition and education support, child protection, immunizations and psychosocial services for children.

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Top photo: Badly damaged buildings are pictured near Vanuatu's capital of Port Vila on April 7, 2020, after Tropical Cyclone Harold swept past and hit islands to the north. The deadly cyclone destroyed much of Vanuatu's second-largest town, Luganville, 170 miles north of Port Vila, but early warnings appeared to have prevented mass casualties in the Pacific nation, with some residents sheltered in caves to stay safe. © UNICEF/UNI318438/Carillo/AFP