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State of emergency declared as two cyclones hit Vanuatu in 24 hrs

Hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to have been affected after two Category 4 cyclones hit Vanuatu within 24 hours.

A state of emergency has been declared in Vanuatu as Category 4 Cyclone Kevin brought gale-force winds and torrential rain to the Pacific nation as it battled its second major cyclone in a week and was also rocked by two earthquakes.

Spread across 13 main islands in the Southwest Pacific, Vanuatu is already battered Cyclone Judywhich hit the capital Port Vila on Wednesday, knocking out power and forcing some residents to evacuate.

As the country cleared roads and repaired power lines cut by Cyclone Judy, residents were startled by twin earthquakes early Friday and told to crouch as Cyclone Kevin approached.

“It’s crazy. Vanuatu is used to natural disasters, but I think this is the first time it has experienced two cyclones in a row,” Eric Durpaire of the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF told Agence France-Presse news agency.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Vanuatu are estimated to have been affected by the two massive Category 4 cyclones, which swept across the island within 24 hours, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement Saturday.

The government declared a state of emergency on Friday and Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau said officials were working to assess the damage, according to Radio New Zealand.

UNICEF Pacific said it was deeply concerned about the impact of two cyclones on vulnerable children and was working with the government to respond to urgent needs of families. The UN agency also said it was shipping emergency supplies to Vanuatu from Fiji in support of disaster relief efforts.

Cyclone Kevin passed over the capital late Friday and swept through the southern island province of Tafea on Saturday morning, with wind gusts exceeding 140 mph (230 km/h), according to the Meteorological Department. According to the National Disaster Management Office, a red alert was in effect for Tafea province, home to just over 30,000 people. All boats were advised not to go to sea.

Winds were expected to ease over the next six to 12 hours as Cyclone Kevin moves further southeast away from Vanuatu.

Adding to the country’s woes, magnitude 6.5 and 5.4 earthquakes were reported on Friday, but there were no immediate reports of casualties. The situation on remote islands remains unclear.

“People on (Espiritu) Santo felt the earthquake but were unable to go outside to assess the damage because of the high winds,” Dickinson Tevi, secretary general of the Vanuatu Red Cross, told AFP.

“They told me they didn’t sleep well when the earthquake hit when they were already awake from the cyclone,” Tevi said.

“Access to affected communities has been hampered as most roads have been damaged and downed power lines have also caused power outages, making communication with remote communities difficult. Tanna Island in Tafea province is expected to be the hardest hit,” Tevi later said in a statement.

Disaster relief agencies are bracing for further damage from Cyclone Kevin and a long recovery ahead.

“It’s like a car accident: first there’s the big shock, then comes the long-term problems,” UNICEF’s Durpaire said.

“Medical centers, hospitals and schools will be affected. Some children may be out of school for weeks, maybe months.”

Australia said it would send a 12-person assessment team to Vanuatu, along with emergency supplies such as shelters and water purification equipment. The Royal Australian Air Force will also assist with air damage assessments.

“The Australian Defense Force, as part of the whole government’s effort, is coordinating closely with the Pacific family to best support the Ni-Vanuatu people,” Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said on Friday.