Still Fierce, Cyclone Donna Moving Towards New Caledonia

Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office is still trying to assess the extent of the damage as some remote parts of the northern provinces have not been able to be contacted

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, May 08, 2017) – Islands in Vanuatu's north hit by Cyclone Donna remain cut off as the category 4 storm heads towards New Caledonia.

The cyclone, with winds gusting up to 265 km/h close to its centre, affected Vanuatu's Torba, Sanma and Malampa province earlier today and a level one alert is in force for New Caledonia's northern province and for the islands of Ouvea and Lifou.

Communication to Vanuatu's northern group of islands remains patchy after the storm swept through, damaging buildings and a cell tower.

Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office is still trying to assess the extent of the damage as some remote parts of the northern provinces have not been able to be contacted.

NDMO director, Shadrack Welegtabit, said the cyclone was now hovering to the west of the country heading towards New Caledonia.

He said there were fears for the safety of those in badly affected areas that have suffered damage to housing and crops.

"We still need to get into contact with people in the west coast of Santo. We have not been in contact with them and we are still monitoring the system and the NDMO is still giving out the island messages for what people should be doing on the ground."

Mr Welegtabit said they were making plans for an assessment team to visit as soon as possible when the weather clears.

"We cannot do any assessment now - both aerial assessment and ground assessment - with the system still hovering in the north. There is still strong gale force winds around the provinces so it's not safe to send any aircraft or boat in at this stage."

Mr Welegtabit said it was frustrating that teams were unable to be deployed.

The storm has hampered relief efforts with about 300 Red Cross volunteers standing by to help.

Red Cross spokesperson Corinne Ambler said water sources had been contaminated, crops damaged and toilets destroyed.

"The Red Cross volunteers can't get up there to respond to help these people. The government has been unable to do assessments so far, both aerial assessments and ground assessments, as the weather is really bad and the sea is so rough that it just not safe for anyone to be going up to that area, so it is quite frustrating."

She said about 1000 locals were sheltering in evacuation centres, and some are also sheltering in a cave.

Donna heading towards New Caledonia

After crossing the northern Vanuatu islands and hovering to the west of Torba for two days, Cyclone Donna is now on track to New Caledonia.

A level one alert has come into force in New Caledonia's northern province and on Ouvea and Lifou.

The same alert will be extended to the rest of New Caledonia at 2pm, meaning people will be advised to prepare for the cyclone's impact.

Domestic flights will be stopped late this morning and schools have been ordered to be closed until at least tomorrow.

Forecaster said by tonight the cyclone would be about 140km off the northernmost island of Belep.

Sign of changing climate

A climate scientist said Cyclone Donna's lateness and intensity was a direct result of a changing climate.

Jim Salinger, from Otago University, said late cyclones such as Donna were rare, but not unheard of.

However, he said this one was unusual as the sea temperatures around Vanuatu and New Caledonia are what they would normally be in March.

"Well we're not in an El Niño and we're not in a La Niña, so you would not expect temperatures to be that warm, though they can be on occasions. So what we're seeing happening here is, I'd say, there's a bit of global warming going on," Dr Salinger says.

Dr Salinger said scientific predictions of stronger, more intense cyclones over a longer season as a result of climate change were starting to be borne out.

Radio New Zealand International
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