Cyclone Judy lashes Vanuatu as residents hunker down

Residents of Vanuatu are hunkering down as a cyclone barrels through the Pacific island nation.

Authorities said there were power outages in some areas and many fallen trees and branches, but it was too early to assess the extent of the damage with Cyclone Judy still raging.

They said there were no initial reports of major destruction or deaths.

Some people had moved to evacuation sites as heavy rainfall flooded their homes.

Others on Wednesday were barricading themselves inside as authorities issued a red alert in the capital, Port Vila, and some other regions – meaning people shouldn’t leave their homes unless absolutely necessary.

The cyclone forced businesses and schools to close, and airlines to cancel flights.

Brenda Williams, spokeswoman for Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office, said Cyclone Judy was packing destructive winds of about 150 kilometres per hour with gusts of up to 200km/h.

Williams said the calmer eye of the tropical cyclone had passed over the capital on Wednesday morning and they were starting to experience strong winds again as the tail moved through.

She said the centre and southern islands were in line to be hit and they were still waiting on damage reports from many places.

On Wednesday afternoon Judy was upgraded to a category four storm. Category 4 has winds of 225-279 km/hr.

A journalist in Vanuatu, Dan McGarry, is in the capital Port Vila and told RNZ Pacific people there are hunkering down.

 “The weather has become quite dramatic, and it is unsafe to be outside. It’s very noisy and very dangerous.

“A red alert is the highest level of warning that our meteorological service offers. It’s basically an instruction, an order, to go home and seek shelter.”

Damaging gale force winds and flooding are also expected.

The National Disaster Management Office has identified evacuation centres in Port Vila but on other parts of Efate and the offshore islands, the office was looking to use church buildings for this purpose.

Radio Vanuatu was forced offline following a power cut.

Meanwhile, The Meteorological Service in New Caledonia has activated its pre-cyclone alerts as Judy makes its way south.

The population is advised to gather essential items and to secure boats properly.

The storm is expected to be about 230km off the island of Mare in the Loyalty Islands by Wednesday night.

Swells of up to 4 metres are expected to hit the north-east coast of the island group on Thursday. Another tropical depression is currently forming south of Papua New Guinea and is expected to intensify into a Cyclone Category one in the following few days.

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