Tropical cyclone Pam ‘Bigger than Bola’

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MIL OSI – Source: Earthquake Commission – Tropical cyclone Pam ‘Bigger than Bola’

[Reprinted from Stuff.co.nz]

Cyclone Pam has slammed into the Solomon Islands, destroying homes and plantations and forcing people to hide in caves.

While Vanuatu prepares for the arrival on Friday night of Pam, the cyclone has already directly hit the remote Solomon islands of Tikopia and the Reef Islands.

State owned Solomons Broadcasting says residents of Temotu Province were appealing for “urgent assessment and assistance”.

One of the worst affected areas was the remote island of Tikopia. On Thursday Pam’s eye passed over the island and the broadcaster said three people had been injured and several villages evacuated.

People are waiting out the cyclone in caves, churches and schools.

Two other islands, Duff and Anuta, are completely cut off with no word.

Pam has affected a wide area of the Solomons including the heavily populated Malaita Island.

Solomons Broadcasting quoted Ezekiel Nodua of Tuwo on Reef Island as saying the wind has been consistent and “very strong”.

People’s gardens which provide food and fruit trees have been uprooted and destroyed.

Former diplomat Robert Sisilo said buildings had been destroyed.

“But the worst impact has been the inundation of food gardens by flood waters due to continuous heavy rain.”

He said at the moment people’s only hope was for a vessel to bring them food supplies and officials from the National Disaster Management Office to assess their current situation.

VANUATU WAITS

As Tropical Cyclone Pam bears down on Vanuatu, New Zealand is sitting tight to see where the super storm will head next.

All eyes are on the potentially devastating weather system, which was upgraded to a category 5 super-cyclone early Friday morning, causing Vanuatu to activate its emergency plans.

Category 5 is the strongest in a five-point scale for storms – with winds of 250kmh or more.

MetService has issued a severe weather watch for northern and eastern parts of the country as the storm nears New Zealand.

The watch was for the possibility of severe gales in Northland and the Coromandel Peninsula, the Eastern Bay of Plenty and Gisborne, and heavy rain in Eastern Northland and the Coromandel Peninsula, Gisborne and Northern Hawke’s Bay.

Gale force winds were expected to develop in the north on Sunday evening, moving down the east of the North Island before easing Tuesday morning.

In Northland and the Coromandel, rainfall could exceed 80mm in 18 hours starting from Sunday evening, while in Gisborne and the Hawke’s Bay rain would become heavy from early Monday, possibly exceeding 100mm in 24 hours.

“There is some uncertainty as to how close to the North Island the eventual cyclone track will be,” MetService said.

“However, it has the potential to be a significant event, with strong south to southeast winds and rain expected over much of the North Island during Monday.”

Local authorities and Civil Defence groups in the North Island have been put on alert for the storm, which is expected to track towards the East Cape on Sunday.

It will transform into an ex-tropical cyclone as it nears New Zealand, but the storm’s power could still be even greater than that of Cyclone Bola, which caused more than $82 million in damage in 1988.

“At the moment it’s bigger than Bola, and it looks like when it reaches here the barometric pressures will be even lower than what Bola was,” Gisborne Civil Defence manager Richard Steele said.

“The lower that goes, the bigger the potential for more storm surges.”

The exact path of the storm was still unknown, Steele said.

“The uncertainty’s a pain in the bum. We’re preparing as if it’s going to have a significant impact on us, we can’t do anything less.”

Gisborne and Bay of Plenty Civil Defence on Thursday issued warnings urging residents to be prepared for high winds, large sea swells, rain, coastal erosion, road closures and power loss from late Sunday.

Meanwhile the fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race from Auckland to Itajai in Brazil was due to start on Sunday, but organisers decided to delay the departure race until Tuesday because of the storm. A final decision on on whether the yachts will depart on Tuesday afternoon or evening is yet to be made by organisers.

An ICC spokesman said while Cricket World Cup organisers were keeping an eye on the forecast for this weekend’s matches in Auckland and Napier, there were no concerns about the cyclone at this stage.

VANUATU PROVINCES ON RED ALERT

Pam was on Friday morning moving southwest at 15kmh, with winds at the centre estimated at 220kmh, the Fiji Meteorological Service said.

Residents in Vanuatu’s Torba, Sanma, Penama and Malampa provinces have been put on “red alert” by the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office, which means they must seek shelter immediately.

READ MORE: Metservice Cyclone Pam blog

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Above: Animated images show the recent path of Cyclone Pam. Source: NOAA

Shefa and Tafea provinces have been put on yellow alert.

Vanuatu Meteorological Services has warned of damaging gale-force winds of up to 160kmh over Penama, Malampa and Shefa provinces within the next 12 hours as the system tracks south and intensifies.

Very rough to “phenomenal” seas with heavy swells were also expected.

Residents have been told to prepare for heavy to torrential rain and flash flooding over low-lying areas, as well as coastal flooding. There was also a risk of landslides.

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United Nations agency UNICEF said it was on standby and ready to respond with emergency supplies and personnel. About 260,000 people were in the potential disaster zone.

The system was forecast to pass just to the east of New Zealand’s East Cape on Monday, by which time it will have downgraded to an ex-tropical cyclone.

While the exact path of the cyclone was still uncertain, severe weather was likely to affect parts of New Zealand, especially the northeast of the North Island, MetService said.

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Above: A Nasa satellite image of Pam from Thursday.

WHAT TO DO IN A STORM

Source: Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management

Before a storm:

– Develop a household emergency plan. Assemble and maintain emergency survival items for your home as well as a portable getaway kit.
– Prepare your property for high winds. Secure large heavy objects or remove any item which can become a deadly or damaging missile. Get your roof checked regularly to make sure it is secure. List items that may need to be secured or moved indoors when strong winds are forecast.
– Keep materials at hand for repairing windows, such as tarpaulins, boards and duct tape.
– If farming, know which paddocks are safe to move livestock away from floodwaters, landslides and power lines.

When a warning is issued and during a storm:

– Stay informed on weather updates. Listen to your local radio stations as civil defence authorities will be broadcasting the most appropriate advice for your community and situation.
– Put your household emergency plan into action and check your getaway kit in case you have to leave in a hurry.
– Secure, or move indoors, all items that could get blown about and cause harm in strong winds.
– Close windows, external and internal doors. Pull curtains and drapes over unprotected glass areas to prevent injury from shattered or flying glass.
– If the wind becomes destructive, stay away from doors and windows and shelter further inside the house.
– Water supplies can be affected so it is a good idea to store drinking water in containers and fill bathtubs and sinks with water.
– Don’t walk around outside and avoid driving unless absolutely necessary.
– Power cuts are possible in severe weather. Unplug small appliances which may be affected by electrical power surges. If power is lost unplug major appliances to reduce the power surge and possible damage when power is restored.
– At home, check fuel supplies for woodburners, gas heaters, barbecues and generators.
– Bring pets inside. Move stock to shelter. If you have to evacuate, take your pets with you.

After a storm:

– Listen to your local radio stations as emergency management officials will be broadcasting the most appropriate advice for your community and situation.
– Check for injuries and help others if you can, especially people who require special assistance.
– Look for and report broken utility lines to appropriate authorities.
– Contact your local council if your house or building has been severely damaged.
– If your property or contents are damaged take notes and photographs and contact your insurance company. Inform your landlord if there is damage to the rental property.
– Ask your council for advice on how to clean up debris safely.

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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