Port Vila, Vanuatu, South Pacific: On Friday, March 13, 2015, Cyclone Pam, a Category 5 severe cyclone with peak sustained winds of 165 mph (265 kph), passed directly over the island nation of Vanuatu.
After spending several days on the ground assessing the damage, Melanesia South Pacific Field Strategy Coordinator, Harmon Schmelzenbach, gave this heartfelt insight to his experience…
I’ve been making my way out of Vanuatu through Fiji over to Papua New Guinea since last night and I’m almost home.
Vanuatu leaves me with a paradox of emotions to struggle through and process. I’ve ridden out a fair number of cyclones over the years, most were Category 3, some were Category 4, and one was a Category 5, like this one [Pam] that just hit Vanuatu. I rode out two of the cyclones on Nazarene Maritime Ministry vessels. Some we didn’t experience the eye of the storm going over us, some we did…the Category 5 we did.
As Cyclone Pam approached, and I realized what we were looking at and that it was going to be a direct hit on the capital of this island nation from a Category 5, I immediately began preparing myself for what I knew would happen. I knew that the physical destruction would be catastrophic and it was not difficult to picture it in my mind because I’ve seen it before. I knew that structures and old solid trees that had never been shaken by anything over lifetimes, would not only be shaken but removed. I knew also that in this island nation of a quarter million people, without question multiplied hundreds, probably well into the thousands would die and tens of thousands would sustain significant injuries. You don’t destroy buildings around people without that happening. You don’t take thousands of razor sharp corrugated iron sheets flying at 100 to 150 mph in every direction without it doing exactly what you can imagine it doing to some percentage of a couple hundred thousand islanders.
You don’t take the power of an ocean that was being described to us by mariners as “massive walls of natures fury that no man could stop,” without it taking out whatever is in its path along the endless miles of island coastline. You most certainly will be able to count on the fact that there’ll be human tragedy multiplied out untold times in the vast majorities of families…unless God decides otherwise.
I was right about the physical but I was certainly not right about the the numbers of people who would die or end up injured. None of it makes any sense at all…unless God decided otherwise. There were tragic deaths and there was injury…but I have yet to talk to anyone that doesn’t believe that it was just a fraction compared to what it should have been. We sat and listened to account after account of what makes no human sense.
“The front door and windows went, the roof went and then all of the walls went. Our entire house was gone from around us and we ran with the children!” There was no limit to the variations of this story being told to anyone who would listen.
Thank you for dropping to your knees a few days back and pleading for God to protect! Thank you for believing that prayers actually do make a difference and have the potential of moving nothing less than the hands of God! There’s an island nation in the South Pacific called Vanuatu, full of precious people who have asked that we communicate back to you… thank you so very much for praying! – Harmon Schmelzenbach
Specific Prayer Requests
Thank you for your continued prayers on behalf of those who have been impacted by this devastating storm. Thank you to those who have sacrificially given financially toward the relief efforts. The recovery will take years, but we know that God is faithful and will continue to guide and protect as He did during the midst of the storm.
Highlights from the Latest UN Situation Update:
- About 166,000 people, including 82,000 children, on 22 islands in Vanuatu are estimated to have been affected by Tropical Cyclone Pam.
- Around 75,000 people are in need of shelter; 110,000 people are without access to clean drinking water.
- Food assistance has been dispatched and has now reached approximately 120,000 people.
- Distribution of shelter kits for approximately 15,000 people is ongoing in the rural areas of Efate Island and has commenced on the Shepherd Islands.
- Initial Rapid Needs Assessments have been completed in all the affected provinces.
- Root crops, which make up at least 80 per cent of the local food source for the entire population, have been significantly damaged across all affected islands.
- Around 166,000 people will require food and assistance in agricultural recovery to sustain their livelihoods.
- All islands in Tafea Province and the outer islands of Shefa Province remain high priority areas for water, food, shelter and health assistance.