Tropical Cyclone Donna is continuing to move south and is about 200km off Vanuatu’s islands.
The cyclone, with winds gusting up to 265 km/h close to its centre, is affecting Vanuatu’s Torba, Sanma and Malampa provinces.
Disaster authorities in Vanuatu said people and supplies were standing by ready to be deployed to cyclone-hit areas as soon as possible.
The worst-hit Torres Islands, where houses have been toppled and food crops destroyed, continue to experience winds gusting over 200 km/h.
The director of the disaster management office, Shadrack Welegtabit, said continued stormy weather was hampering the response effort.
“We cannot do any assessment now – both aerial assessment and ground assessment – with the system still hovering in the north. There is still strong gale force winds around the provinces so it’s not safe to send any aircraft or boat in at this stage.”
Mr Welegtabit said it was frustrating that teams were unable to be deployed.
After crossing the northern Vanuatu islands and hovering to the west of Torba for two days, Cyclone Donna is now on track to New Caledonia.
A level one alert has come into force in New Caledonia’s northern province and on Ouvea and Lifou.
The same alert will be extended to the rest of New Caledonia at 2pm, meaning people will be advised to prepare for the cyclone’s impact.
Domestic flights will be stopped late this morning and schools have been ordered to be closed until at least tomorrow.
Forecaster said by tonight the cyclone would be about 140km off the northernmost island of Belep.
Sign of changing climate
A climate scientist said Cyclone Donna’s lateness and intensity was a direct result of a changing climate.
Jim Salinger, from Otago University, said late cyclones such as Donna were rare, but not unheard of.
However, he said this one was unusual as the sea temperatures around Vanuatu and New Caledonia are what they would normally be in March.
“Well we’re not in an El Niño and we’re not in a La Niña, so you would not expect temperatures to be that warm, though they can be on occasions. So what we’re seeing happening here is, I’d say, there’s a bit of global warming going on,” Dr Salinger says.
Dr Salinger said scientific predictions of stronger, more intense cyclones over a longer season as a result of climate change were starting to be borne out.