“Much of Vanuatu appears like a WW2 battlefield after the victors departed”Posted: March 19, 2015
Our man Bob Makin is back in action. He sent us this update from Port Vila earlier today.
“Much of Vanuatu appears like a WW2 battlefield after the victors departed”, one witness said: everything is smashed. Well, yes. The millions of trees not uprooted or blasted are leafless. Squatter settlements are now heaps of broken roofs and planks, busted furniture and shredded awnings. Thousands of homes are destroyed.
But the loss of life was not great, as far as we know at this time. 11 is the official figure.
A village on Ambae island is said to have been washed away and 44 dead there, or bringing the total to 44.
We cannot be sure as possibly the greatest victim of Cyclone Pam was perhaps communications. The repair task is enormous. This morning’s Radio Vanuatu announcer spoke of the huge task of the communications companies trying to put up antennae throughout the 80 islands of the archipelago. Following the enthusiasm for mobile telephony which started a decade ago in Vanuatu, even bringing telecoms competition between two companies, it was expected we had achieved a signal move forward in communications. However, there was Cyclone Lucy of two years ago. This was very threatening to the Banks and west coast Santo. Complaints were many from those areas: people having to go out into the storm and climb trees or hills to get their mobile connection. In the Banks and West Coast Santo the people could not get Radio Vanuatu at the time. The Government was saving on maintenance and huge expenses in the running of the shortwave service of Radio Vanuatu. They had the best warnings only from Radio Solomon Islands in the Banks, Torres and Santo. Now, following Cyclone Pam in 2015, the communications problem extends to all islands as the mobile telephone towers are torn down and Radio Vanuatu has only one shortwave frequency ‘on’ currently.
I’ve been asking people in Port Vila how they and their family faired. They can say they survived here, but the majority come from other islands and have no knowledge as to how the “family at home” got on. Even now, four days after Pam, they do not, cannot know, with communications so bad. At least Santo people still have communications, they were not so damaged by Pam. People were going about their business in Luganville Saturday morning, after Pam, it is said.
Communications were greatly upset too by the electricity failures. Most of the capital still does not have power. At least the power company widely gave its first efforts to getting the water (which it also runs) going again, in just 24 hours. But for general electrical supply, there are still many pylons, “postlaet”,down and twisted: wires all over the place.
My suburban house (happily intact), like most, has no power. The power company now has the hospital and airport connected, and minutes ago, the first Air Vanuatu flight went out. However, to power up mobiles and computers everyone is looking for beneficiaries. I am kindly being helped by the University – Emalus Campus . Power is these days also needed to dispense fuel from underground tanks. During several days, buses choked the main street in lines trying to negotiate hand pumping at the central fuel stations. Electrical pumping is being restored at some.
Banging and hammering are going on all over the place. Shanties can get replaced, sometimes fairly quickly. My neighbourhood kava bar was up and running again in two days – during which time a baby was born to the manager – fortunately a boy and unlikely to be called “Pam”.
We are doing exactly as the much respected and liked Prime Minister Joe Natuman urged in a Sunday broadcast when Radio Vanuatu reopened. We are working together to clean up and return Vanuatu to its worth as a former “happiest place in the World” and to maximum productivity. This last is still a long way away. Garden crops are the staple for health, and they are rotting. But aid planes from friend countries – the Prime Minister singled out firstly Australia, New Zealand and France, the traditional best friend countries – Hercules transport planes are arriving. The damage assessment teams are getting out to the other islands already. Erromango, Tango and Aneityum, it’s hoped, will be visited very soon. These were right on Pam’s path when it left Port Vila.
There will be more from me when it can be easily supplied.
Drone footage by ABC News Australia.