Damage reported as Cyclone Hola builds

THE roof has blown off a classroom and some houses have collapsed on the island of Ambrym as Tropical Cyclone Hola hit this afternoon.

A volunteer for the Red Cross in the west of Ambrym said the wind there was getting very strong and the seas were rough.

Bong Kimmy said the weather was fine in the morning and changed quite suddenly around midday.

He said most people had heeded the warnings and moved away from the coastline but others did not receive warnings as the cellphone network was damaged.

Mr Kimmy said this afternoon more people had started to move to evacuation areas and safer buildings such as churches.

Several houses are damaged and have fallen down on the north side of Ambrym and the roof of a secondary school classroom has blown out already, Mr Kimmy said.

The children appeared to be safe and there are no reports of injuries so far, he said.

Earlier, Vanuatu’s weather office warned of destructive storm force winds as Tropical Cyclone Hola made landfall in Vanuatu’s northern islands.

The Vanuatu Meteorological and Geohazards Department said winds gusting up to 160 km/hr were expected to hit Pentecost, Ambrym, Malekula, Paama, Epi and the Shepards group.

The tropical cyclone currently remains at category two but this may increase over the next 12 to 18 hours as it moves west southwest at 6km/hr.

It has sustained winds close to the centre estimated at 95km/hr.

The weather warning predicts seas will remain very rough with heavy to phenomenal swells, heavy rainfalls, thunderstorm and flash flooding over low lying areas and areas close to river banks including coastal flooding.

A Disaster Office red alert warning in place for the four provinces of Sanma, Penama, Malampa and Shefa, which cover much of the country.

Vanuatu’s Meteorology and Geohazards Department spokesman Glen Siba said the cyclone’s central pressure was dropping, bringing heavy rain and higher winds.

“We expect heavy rainfall, thunder storm and flash flooding actually in low lying areas and areas close to the riverbanks. Also we are expecting strong wind actually for coastal areas and coastal waters and high seas for Vanuatu areas.”

Peter Korisa from Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office said they had earlier issued messages for people to prepare as the cyclone draws near.

“We issued a red alert for those provinces because the cyclone as it’s approaching within the next 12-24 hours it will reach those provinces so we sort of advise them, the communities, to do some basic preparedness.”

Mr Korisa said people should also stay away from the coast as storm surges are possible with rough seas and heavy swells in Vanuatu waters.

Mr Kimmy said most people were well prepared for Tropical Cyclone Hola and he was expecting more families to arrive at the evacuation centres this evening as the cyclone intensifies.