Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam, the strongest storm to hit the Pacific since 1987, is steadily making her way toward the island nation of Vanuatu.
The archipelago nation, which consists of 83 small islands and home to about 200,000 people, is bracing for a potential category 5 storm that is already delivering winds in excess of 260 kph (160 mph).
Vanuatu Meteorological Services are warning residents of the small island to prepare for torrential rain, landslides and flash flooding in low-lying areas and are saying the storm will bring “very destructive winds and very rough to phenomenal seas with heavy swells.”
Area residents have been told that flooding in excess of 16 inches is likely. Forecasters are suggesting people do what they can to protect property by boarding windows and removing trees close to buildings. Evacuation alerts have been given for six provinces.
Joint Typhoon Warning Center says Cyclone Pam is expected to intensify over the next 12 to 24 hours as it continues to head southward.
Alice Clements of UNICEF, speaking from Vanuatu says, “Everybody is concerned about shelter, ensuring that the shelters are going to be strong enough for them.”
The capital city, Port Vila, is situated along the coastline, making it extremely vulnerable to storm surges. Pam is expected to pass Port Vila sometime Friday night bringing with her, devastating winds of about 280 kph.
In a report to ABC, meteorologist Neville Koop, from Fiji’s Na Draki weather service, says southern islands like Tanna could experience greater impacts from Pam.
“For Port Vila tomorrow [Saturday], as the cyclone moves south and away from them, the winds will turn south-westerly and that will be pushing seas right into the harbor and the lagoon.
“We could see quite significant sea-flooding.”
There are currently three other storms in the area, Olwyn, Bavi and Nathan.
Vatuatu’s metrological service has warned of more bad weather. Follwing Pam are models that show separate tropical cyclones heading in the same direction.
Cyclone Nathan, which is currently a category two storm, is in the Coral Sea and could hit Vanuatu next week.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands could also be affected by Cyclone Nathan.
“This could have devastating effects for communities living in areas that have already experienced prolonged rains and other impacts from Tropical Cyclone Pam,” OCHA said.