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Schools and shops shut ahead of Vanuatu Cyclone Oma

Schools and businesses in Vanuatu's northern provinces have shut down as Cyclone Oma is expected to bring gale force winds and flash flooding today.

The Category 1 system has triggered a red alert for Torba, Sanma and Penama meaning people are advised to secure property, avoid flood zones and stay home to wait out the dangerous weather.

Damaging gale force winds of 75 km with gusts up to 100km are expected to affect those three provinces for the next 12 to 24 hours.

Communications Officer for the National Disaster Management Office Presley Tari said with an increasing number of disasters over recent years, most people in Vanuatu were alert all the time and knew what to do.

He said more parts of the country are likely to shut down as the cyclone moves south.

“NDMO is advising everyone to stay alert in their houses. Prepare themselves for the cyclone coming. So we are asking those with the red alert to close down their business and even the schools I think [are] already closed like in the places where the red alert is.”

Tari said there were already reports on social media of damaged crops on northern islands from brief wild winds over the weekend ahead of Cyclone Oma.

Head forecaster for Vanuatu's Meteorological Service Fred Jockley said Oma was expected to reach Torba and Sanma today between midday and 6pm and it may yet intensify into a Category 2 system, before heading over cooler waters which would weaken its effects.

“The night shift forecasters have issued a red alert for especially Torba Province and Sanma Province. But for nine o'clock we will be including Penama and most probably Malampa. We'll see how fast the system moves closer to Sanma and Torba.”

He said there was also a marine warning in force for the whole of Vanuatu, and that vessels are strongly advised not to go out as high seas are expected for northern and central coastal and open waters.

Jockley said people needed to heed messages from the National Disaster Management Office to prepare themselves for the cyclone.

“For those who have not taken the warning seriously, they should start preparing themselves before the system actually comes over if it maintains its track of movement.”

He said Shefa Province, which includes Vanuatu's capital Port Vila on the island of Efate, was likely to be impacted by Cyclone Oma within the next 24 to 48 hours but this would depend on how the system tracks.

Torba Province includes Banks and Torres Islands with a population of around 10,000 people and Sanma is home to 54,000 people mainly living on the islands of Santo and Malo.

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