by Tom Perry, CARE Australia
Packing winds of up to 360 kilometres an hour, Category Five Cyclone Pam is the largest cyclone on record to have hit the South Pacific region. Its destruction has claimed lives, left much of the beautiful island nation of Vanuatu in ruins, and left thousands homeless.
Yet there is at least one person who is unlikely, for some years yet, to know how remarkable her relationship with the force known as Pam has been. Angelina* was born amidst the destruction, carnage and terror that Cyclone Pam brought to her small community of Imaiyo village, on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu’s south.
Having received warnings of the looming cyclone, the Imaiyo community bunkered down. People prepared by stockpiling small amounts of food, and laying stones across roofs to prevent them from being lifted off.
Word from agencies including CARE began to come in that Cyclone Pam was as big as feared, and it was tearing a path of destruction across Vanuatu’s central islands, including the capital Port Vila. By late on the evening of 13 March, communications across much of Vanuatu were gone, and by the following morning, the cyclone was sitting directly on top of Tanna Island.
Much of the Imaiyo community took shelter in the few concrete buildings available – the simple clinic and the small school library – with hundreds crammed together, terrified as Pam’s eye loomed closer.
Yet there were a few villagers that couldn’t join them. Marishan Magelan, heavily pregnant, began experiencing the initial pain of contractions before going into labour late in the evening.
The community’s midwife was brought to Marishan’s hut to help, and Marishan’s family and other villagers did what they could to offer support. Many took turns to stand outside for hours on end amidst the howling wind, rain and flying debris, pressing their bodies against the walls of Marishan’s small hut – made of timber and palm fronds – in an attempt to hold it together.
For well over 24 hours, the community came together to protect Marishan from Cyclone Pam’s destruction, and remarkably, on the Sunday morning, baby Angelina was born.
“I was frightened, I was in pain,” said Marishan, still weak and cradling days-old Angela. “I’m grateful to the community for helping me. It was terrifying.”
It is hard not to be drawn into the symbolism of life beginning amidst the chaos and destruction of an event as traumatic as Cyclone Pam has been on Vanuatu. But most people in Imaiyo have, at this point, little time or interest in symbolism. Their focus is purely on survival; on getting food, clean drinking water and a roof above their heads.
CARE is now delivering food, hygiene and shelter support to communities across Vanuatu’s southern islands, including families like Marishan’s and Angelina’s in Imaiyo village.
* CARE is committed to being a child safe organisation. Names of children have been changed.