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After spending two days in Port Vila, it was a relief to see Aneityum and Futuna from above. Two of the southernmost islands in Vanuatu, they have escaped serious damage from Tropical Cyclone Pam. Coconut trees still line the beach. Patches of greenery were spared the worst of the storm.
I was greeted by a village chief in Futuna, who explained that all 500 people on the island had survived. The cyclone damaged the island’s only cell phone tower, making it impossible to send communication out to the other islands.
“You are the first outsiders to arrive,” he told me. “But the crops on the island are all destroyed,” he continues. “We need help.” Together with local authorities, our Red Cross team continued to discuss what is needed here.
Unlike the good news that we received on the island of Futuna, the situation on Tanna is starkly the opposite. Tropical Cyclone Pam made landfall on Tanna, and it shows. Fallen trees are everywhere, and debris is littering the streets. Villagers have no access to safe drinking water or electricity, and most of the gardens they rely on as their source of income have been flattened.
The Vanuatu Red Cross is carrying out relief efforts with the authorities, distributing tarpaulins, water containers, and providing general assistance to a number of families. A ship with more relief supplies including 1400 tarps and 600 water containers will be shipped to Tanna tomorrow.
The Vanuatu Red Cross is working around the clock to help bring aid to communities everywhere in Vanuatu. Speaking to Augustine Gerare, “We expect that there will be a food shortage in the next couple of weeks as people run out of food,” explains Augustine Gerare, head of disaster management for the Vanuatu Red Cross. “With their gardens destroyed, the people won’t have a sustainable source of food for their families. Yet in spite of all of this, we have been deeply humbled by those who have come out to volunteer and lend a hand.”
Today, more than 100 volunteers registered with the national society. It felt good to know that even in times of disaster, the people of Vanuatu are coming together to help each other.
For updated news from Hanna please follow her on Twitter: @hannarosebutler
Hanna Butler works for the New Zealand Red Cross. She is currently supporting the Vanuatu Red Cross since Tropical Cyclone Pam hit on 13 March 2015. Hanna has been in Vanuatu since Monday 16 March. The above is her personal story following a visit to the islands of Aneityum, Futuna, and Tanna.