At least 29 people have been killed by a devastating cyclone that continues to make its way across the Pacific Islands.
Cyclone Harold formed on Thursday 2 April (local time) in the Coral Sea before heading east toward the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
The Solomon Islands were the first to be blasted by the strengthening cyclone over the weekend, then categorised as a tropical storm, with The Guardian reporting that at least 28 people were missing and feared killed after their ferry encountered dangerous seas.
Multiple outlets later confirmed that at least 27 people on board the vessel, which reportedly defied cyclone warnings, had been killed.
Following Tropical Cyclone Harold that hit Vanuatu as a Category 5 on 6 April, Australia’s Deputy High Commissioner Susan Ryle travelled to Santo to check on the welfare of Australians and meet with counterparts. ???? #TCHarold @MarisePayne @AlexHawkeMP @AusHumanitarian @dfat pic.twitter.com/5SG5jiFdIa
— Australian High Commission in Vanuatu (@AusHCVanuatu) April 8, 2020
The passengers were reportedly swept from MV Taimareho, a vessel travelling from the capital of Honiara to West Are Are port in Malaita province, on a charter organised by their local MP as part of a COVID-19 contingency plan, which has seen people evacuated back to their home villages.
Increasing to a catastrophic category five cyclone, Harold hit Vanuatu on Monday, where at least two people have been killed, ABC News reported.
Communication lines to Vanuatu’s hardest-hit islands – Espiritu Santo, Malo and Pentecost, among others – were severed by the storm, with calmer weather providing an opportunity for emergency officials to assess the cyclone’s full devastation.
Adding to concerns is that the news that urgent international relief supplies will have to be quarantined for “seven days”, SBS News reported. Vanuatu was already in a state of emergency because of COVID-19 and is awaiting general election results.
?Happening now ? Tropical cyclone Harold is hitting Northern Vanuatu hard.
Red Cross teams are working around the clock supporting their communities by helping people evacuate, undertaking assessments and sharing life-saving info.
— IFRC ❤️ #ThanksHealthHeroes ? (@ifrc) April 6, 2020
Speaking to the outlet, aid organisations say they are aware of the potential danger of accepting goods from overseas during the COVID-19 pandemic, but remain confident they can manage the risk.
“It is likely that the cyclone recovery will require international aid in the form of funds or goods, but we have confidence we can do this in a way that’s locally-led and which minimises the risk of COVID-19,” Julia Marango, resilience manager for CARE in Vanuatu, told SBS News.
On Wednesday, after battering Vanuatu, the storm was downgraded to a category four cyclone before reaching Fiji as it continued heading south-east, where it levelled buildings and caused dangerous flooding on the country’s largest island, Viti Levu.
— AccuWeather (@accuweather) April 8, 2020
After weakening slightly yesterday, Cyclone Harold has again strengthened to a powerful category five storm, as it tracks past Tonga.
Matangi Tonga news reported the cyclone was expected to coincide with both a king tide and “supermoon” on Thursday. An extreme high tide warning has reportedly been put in place for all Tonga coastal waters for Thursday and Friday.
As of 2pm Thursday (local time), the Tonga government has downgraded its cyclone warning. The full impact of the storm is yet to be known, however, multiple reports of severe flooding have emerged.
Ofa lahi atu Tonga. Especially everyone that’s affected by the sea flooding from Tropical Cyclone Harold. Malo reporter Lipe. ??????❤️❤️❤️??????
Posted by Radio Nuku'alofa 88.6FM on Wednesday, 8 April 2020
#CycloneHarold#HofoaTongaKia Ora Hofoa – ‘Ofa atu. My village in Tonga ?? after Cyclone Harold – Flooding but all are well and in good spirit. https://www.facebook.com/miss.kano/videos/539528653609200/
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to Twitter to voice his support for nations being gripped by the storm, alongside separate confirmation that Australia had offered assistance to several of the countries affected by the storm, as reported by ABC News.
While executive secretary of United Nations Climate Change Patricia Espinosa Cantellano said the storm was another example of extreme weather linked to climate change affecting Earth’s most vulnerable destinations.
While these are difficult days, we can’t forget that difficult days are the daily reality for many because of #climatechange. We must, therefore, continue to drive #ClimateAmbition and ensure #NDCs are as robust as possible.
— Patricia Espinosa C. (@PEspinosaC) April 8, 2020
Featured image: Cyclone Harold batters Vanuatu (NASA earth observatory/earthobservatory.nasa.gov)