A devastating humanitarian disaster is unfolding today over northern and central Vanuatu as category 4 Tropical Cyclone HAROLD moves to within 100km of Santo island this morning and continues to strengthen.

Forecasts indicate that the centre of TC Harold will pass across the archipelago through SANMA and SHEFA provinces, directly affecting the two most populous islands of Efate where the capital of Port Vila is located, and Espiritu Santo with the 2nd main population centre of Luganville.

The threat to life and property is extreme at a time when we are all concentrating on limiting the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the day the cyclone is expected to intensify to a category 5 cyclone, the highest intensity on the scale, and the cyclone is also forecast to slow down, meaning that in addition to the very destructive winds there will be prolonged heavy rain with widespread flooding and accompanying landslips posing direct threat to lives, infrastructure and agriculture.

Rules and regulations with regard to social distancing and staying at home will become impossible as families and communities seek refuge and structures are damaged or destroyed.

During the coming week there will be increasing threats to Fiji and also southern Tonga.

At this time it is expected that Fiji will start to see initial impacts from tomorrow night as rain increases over the western, central and northern divisions initially, then the eastern division from Tuesday morning. Damaging gale force winds gusting to 85 kph are expected over Viti Levu while the southern Mamanucas, southwestern Viti Levu, Vatulele and Kadavu may experience destructive storm force winds later Wednesday.

You should continue to listen closely to directives from relevant authorities as regards the likely impacts of TC Harold and how these may affect procedures and regulations in place for COVID-19. Ensure you have basic items such as water, tinned or non perishable food, and access to a radio.

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