MAIN IMAGE: NASA satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Harold over Solomon Islands on Friday.
A Level 5 Cyclone, dubbed Tropical Cyclone Harold, has ploughed its way through several Pacific archipelagos since Monday, leaving a swathe of destruction across impoverished island nations already girded against the global coronavirus pandemic.
The storm is now headed for the Tonga archipelago.
The cyclone formed on April 1 between the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. According to Reuters, the cyclone hit Solomon Islands and Vanuatu as a Category 5 hurricane, but was downgraded to a Category 4 hurricane before hitting Fiji.
Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Tonga are three of the 17 countries that had reported no coronavirus cases by this week, but had instituted preemptive travel restrictions to combat the global pandemic. With these restrictions in place, it is unclear whether the affected island nations will be able to receive international aid.
The cyclone took its first casualties off of the Solomon Islands early Friday, when 27 people were swept off a ferry into the ocean as the cyclone passed by. As of Monday, police had recovered just five bodies, according to The Independent website. Flooding and downed trees were also reported as the cyclone ravaged the archipelago.
Tropical Cyclone Harold made landfall on Vanuatu on Monday, destroying buildings and flooding streets. The island nation had been under a state of emergency since March 26 in response to the coronavirus, but officials relaxed social distancing regulations in preparation for the cyclone’s landfall, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Vanuatu officials have now revoked the nation’s domestic travel ban to enable relief efforts to reach some of the archipelago’s islands. New Zealand has allocated some resources to help Vanuatu and the foreign minister has announced that more will be available should Vanuatu request it.
According to the Daily Maverick, the cyclone reached Fiji on Wednesday, tearing through the capital city of Suva and destroying at least 10 buildings and flooding streets.
Emergency officials have been scrambling to establish telecommunications connections between the archipelago’s islands, as the storm has cut off islands like Kapavu, according to the Daily Maverick.
The capital city of Suva has been under lockdown since Friday, with the country’s total reported coronavirus cases hitting 15 on Wednesday. Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama urged citizens to stay indoors unless ordered to evacuate, according to Reuters.
The Weather Channel predicts Tropical Cyclone Harold will continue on its trajectory toward Tonga, hitting the archipelago by Thursday.