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Power and communication outages delay Cyclone Lola emergency response in Vanuatu

Category 5 Tropical Cycle Lola left a trail of destruction in Vanuatu on Oct. 25. Photo courtesy of RNZ

By Pacific Island Times News Staff

Port Villa-- A state of emergency has been declared for five provinces in Vanuatu which was hit by a Category 5 cyclone with sustained wind speeds of up to 215km/h, leaving a trail of destructions, wiping out agricultural crops and knocking out utility infrastructures.

According to the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program or SPREP, power and telecommunications disruptions have exacerbated the challenges for the disaster response to Cyclone Lola.

"Power outages have been reported throughout the affected areas, further hampering relief efforts and hindering communication lines vital for coordinating emergency response activities," SPREP said.

Of the five provinces, only four -- Shefa, Penama, Malampa and Torba-- reported a need for relief response, according to Vanuatu Daily Post.

The Vanuatu Post reported that a total of over 21,000 people were severely affected by Cyclone Lola, which also damaged crops.

"Food shortage is reported in south Malekula while in north Pentecost, the cyclone has exacerbated an existing food shortage caused by pests and diseases, leaving people in desperate need of food," the daily paper reported.

The paper also reported that water is needed in Pentecost, southeast and south Malekula, north, west and southeast Ambrym, as well as north Epi and Paama.

"The cyclone has affected people’s access to safe drinking water, with water sources being contaminated and damaged. Bottled water is urgently needed to be shipped from Port Vila to provide drinking water to affected people and water filters to households and communities," the report said.

SPREP said the storm surge and intense winds wreaked havoc on coastal areas of Ambae Island and on the western side of Ambrym Island.

Numerous other islands in the northern provinces have also been affected by flooding and the destruction of homes and buildings. Numerous communities have been displaced, leaving families homeless and in urgent need of assistance, SPREP said.

Cyclone Lola was the third severe tropical cyclone to hit Vanuatu so far this year, following the twin TCs Judy and Kevin in February and March.

Cyclone Lola arrived a week before the official start of Vanuatu’s cyclone season on Nov. 1 and is also the earliest category 5 cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, according to SPREP.

"This unusually early storm is a wake-up call for the region for the coming cyclone season," SPREP said.

"The region’s climatologists and meteorologists are predicting an above-average number of tropical cyclones to form in the western Pacific this cyclone season, which coincides with the arrival of a strong El Niño ENSO phase, which is also likely to mean that these cyclones may be more intense than normal," SPREP added.

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