Published on 22nd March 2015
VSA volunteer with World Vision Peter Brown had the choice to evacuate Tanna Island, but chose to stay behind and help members of the community prepare for Cyclone Pam instead.
He and his wife, Elizabeth (also a VSA volunteer) had been living on the island for just over a year, when news the worst storm the Pacific has ever seen was coming their way. Elizabeth was in Port Vila for work when it became clear how bad the storm would be.
VSA Programme Manager Andrew Johnston was in constant contact with Peter, until communications were cut off by the storm, and made sure Peter was in safe accommodation and had supplies.
Elizabeth and Peter were reunited five days later.
“We have a five day rule. We don’t panic if we haven’t heard from one another until after the five day mark,” says Elizabeth.
Tanna is believed to have been the area most severely affected by Cyclone Pam. Eighty to 90 per cent of homes have been destroyed.
Peter weathered the storm in the two-storey cement agricultural office; taping up windows and pushing filing cabinets against the doors. As the storm worsened, community members showed up at the door with their pets. They waited for seven hours until the storm passed.
“The wind and the rain were unrelenting,” says Peter. “Huge big banyan trees, just snapped in half. It was just unreal.”
The biggest issues affecting Tanna now are water, shelter and food. All crops on the island were wiped out and many are now trying to clear debris and plant again. It will take three to six months before anything can be harvested.
“In the meantime, we have to fill that hunger and nutrition gap for the community.”
With thanks to World Vision for supplying the top photo of Peter and information for this story.