Category 5 cyclone heads to Vanuatu after claiming Solomon lives

Wellington: Parts of Vanuatu are being warned to expect gusts to 235 kilometres an hour as category 5 severe tropical cyclone Harold bears down on the island nation.

Around 5am on Monday AEDT, the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department said the cyclone was about 100km west of Luganville – on the large northern island of Espiritu Santo – and moving east at 18km/h.

Hurricane force winds of 215km/h, gusting to 235km/h within 37 kilometres from the centre were expected to affect some provinces in the following 12 to 24 hours. Maximum sustained winds close to the centre of the cyclone were estimated at 215km/h.

The hardest hit province could expect destructive storm force winds of 120km/h with gusts to 150km/h within 74km of the cyclone centre on Monday.

"Damaging gale force winds, destructive storm force winds and hurricane force winds with heavy rainfalls and flash flooding over low lying areas and areas close to river banks including coastal flooding is expected over Sanma, Torba, Penama, and Malampa provinces today," VMGD said on Monday morning.

"Very rough to phenomenal seas with heavy to phenomenal swells are expected over northern and central open and coastal waters today as the system continues to move closer to the Islands of Vanuatu," it said.

"People, including sea going vessels are strongly advised not to go out to sea within affected area until the system has moved out of the area."

The latest forecast track map from Fiji's Nadi Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre showed the centre of the cyclone at Category 3 strength passing to the south of Fiji later on Tuesday.

Harold has already passed through the Solomon Islands where police retrieved five bodies on Sunday in their search for 27 people who were swept off a ferry earlier.

The MV Taimareho set sail early on Friday in strong winds with 738 passengers including crew and the captain on board. Police said the missing were believed to have fallen off during heavy seas.

Cyclone Harold – then a category two storm – crossed just to the south of Solomon Islands early on Friday. Police said the ship has since found a shelter at Suu Harbour in Malaita Province.

"The bodies discovered includes three female and two male," Solomon Islands police said in a statement.

Vanuatu was hit hard in 2015 by Cyclone Pam, a category 5 cyclone that pummelled the capital Port Vila and other islands.

Vanuatu declared a state of emergency on March 26 in response to novel coronavirus risks but has no confirmed cases yet. Local media reported the country had to lift social distancing rules enacted to fight the virus, to allow people to leave their homes for evacuation centres in preparation for the cyclone.

Stuff, Reuters

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