South Pacific disease threat follows destructive cyclone

NUKU’ALOFA, TONGA (AFP) – Tropical Cyclone Harold’s trail of destruction through four Pacific nations could threaten a rise in disease, authorities warned yesterday, as stretched health services struggled under the added burden of the coronavirus.

Speedy repairs and recovery were needed to prevent malaria and dengue outbreaks following the cyclone which killed 29 and left thousands homeless, officials said.

Over a seven-day period, Harold developed from a category one cyclone into a category five super storm as it slammed into the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga.

Homes and crops were destroyed, plantations felled, and roads were covered in debris including several wrecked boats.

The Red Cross Communications Manager for the Pacific, Carl Gustav Lorentzen, described the damage in the region as “substantial” but said it could be some days before a dollar figure could be put on it.

Many areas would be without power for at least a week and in some of Vanuatu’s more remote islands it could be two weeks before electricity is restored, Lorentzen said.

“Crops have been 100 per cent damaged, houses destroyed and we are having quite some challenges providing shelter in those areas.”

In Luganville, Vanuatu’s second-largest town, two people had been killed in the storm which destroyed 70 per cent of buildings and left a dire need for clean water and shelter, local MP Matai Seremaiah said.

“If we don’t clear up the yards they start to attract mosquitoes and then the next thing, we have malaria or dengue fever coming in,” Seremaiah told Radio New Zealand.

In the Solomon Islands 27 people died after being swept off an inter-island ferry.

In Fiji, three days after the storm pounded its way through, 4,000 people remain in evacuation centres.