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The island nation of Vanuatu is getting slammed by a terrifying cyclone

By Svati Kirsten Narula
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.
MSAT imagery from NOAA depicting Cyclone Pam over the islands of Vanuatu (outlined in pink) on Mar. 13.

Tropical Cyclone Pam, a category 5 storm, made landfall in the South Pacific today—barreling across the chain of islands belonging to Vanuatu. Meteorologists and local authorities were anticipating this, and the nation’s 260,000 residents have been on high alert for the past 24 hours. The capital city of Port Vila, located on the southern coast of one of the central islands, has been directly hit. The storm is carrying 165 mph (270 kilometers per hour) winds, with gusts of up to 200 mph, according to CNN, and causing widespread flooding and power outages across the infrastructure-light nation.

The Guardian described acute panic in Port Vila amidst evacuation and lockdown procedures yesterday. The city is sheltering residents in special evacuation centers and underground bunkers. Unicef and other aid agencies have been on the ground all week. This is thought to be the strongest storm to ever hit Vanuatu, and the strongest making landfall in the region since 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines.

A Mar. 13 map of the forecast tracks and locations of Cyclone Pam and other storms in Oceania.

Vanuatu, a volcanic archipelago located approximately 1,000 miles (1,750 km) east of Australia, has attracted global attention in the past for facing other natural disasters, including the 2005 eruption of Mount Manara, which displaced thousands of residents. Earlier this year, undersea quakes in the area triggered tsunami fears (but nothing more).

Vanuatu is known for being a country without a military. It also is one of the places where the best drone videos of 2014 came from, where Google Maps won’t draw borders, and where men outnumber women.

But its claim to fame most relevant right now may be this: a British risk-analytics firm recently ranked Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, as the world’s most at-risk city for natural disasters.

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