April 8, 2020

As Cyclone Harold Hits Vanuatu, Adventist Churches Become Evacuation Shelters

Tracey Bridcutt, Adventist Record, and Adventist Review

Seventh-day Adventists around the South Pacific are being urged to pray for the people of Vanuatu, which was pummelled by Tropical Cyclone Harold on the morning of April 6, 2020.

The Category 5 cyclone brought torrential rain and 150 mph (240 km/h) winds to the island nation. Vanuatu’s largest island, Santo, is bearing the brunt of the extreme conditions, with reports of widespread damage. According to several media reports, communications have been cut in the aftermath of the storm, limiting information on the present situation.

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) field office on Santo reported that it is equipped with water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) kits donated by the New Zealand government that are ready for distribution.

ADRA Vanuatu country director Richard Greenwell said ADRA has established an evacuation center at Sarakata Adventist church in Luganville, the second largest city in the country. More than 20 ADRA-trained youth are knocking on doors and transporting vulnerable residents to the center, ADRA leaders reported.

According to local church leaders, other evacuation shelters will likely be set up in Seventh-day Adventist churches, given that a network of new churches rated to “Category 5 resilience” was built after Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015.

The cyclone had earlier passed by the Solomon Islands, where it did not make landfall but caused a lot of flooding. The National Disaster Management Office is coordinating an initial damage assessment in partnership with non-government organizations, including ADRA.

ADRA regional director Greg Young has called for prayer for the communities impacted and the volunteers who are helping those in need.

“We are hearing reports of significant damage to houses and buildings, but we are praying that there will be no loss of life,” Young said.

The cyclone has come at a particularly challenging time as Vanuatu is under a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s borders are closed, and mass gatherings have been banned. However, the government has lifted social distancing restrictions to allow people to gather at the evacuation centers.

The original version of this story was posted by Adventist Record.