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Vanuatu: Cyclone Pam and the impact of the Institute Process

A report from the Bahá'ís of Tanna on the reconstruction process -April 2015.
Update #6 Thu Mar 20, 2015 0745 PDT
(Fri Mar 21, 0145 VT)

David Bough - Face Book Post
The sun will continue to shine in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam. While most people were unharmed, like me and my family, the degree of physical destruction was high. Thousands of people lost their homes due to the severe wind with rain. I have seen huge trees toppled with massive roots exposed, some trees and telephone poles snapped in half, thick metal posts twisted, roofs on concrete houses ripped off, local style houses smashed to the ground, significant erosion around bridges making them unsafe for vehicles - yet many were spared. Schools will be closed for perhaps 2 more weeks as many classrooms are used as temporary shelters, and the school holidays can be shortened later in the year. A lot of work has already begun to reinstate running water and electricity in neighbourhoods around Port Vila, the airport is now open and some banks, some shops, and more as time goes on are opening. The phone companies are working hard to restore communication - phone and Internet. Many roads have had the debris from trees and sheet metal from roofs pushed to the sides to enable the smooth flow of traffic. A lot of work and rebuilding is needed. Significant offers of foreign aid have been pledged, and some already received in terms of essential supplies. The people of Vanuatu are resilient and patient, and in the end will come out ahead. In another 3-4 months the vegetation will grow back, and the sun will - as it has - continue to shine in Vanuatu!

Update #5 Wed Mar 19, 2015 1815 PDT
(Thu Mar 20, 0215 VT)

Post on Facebook from Charlie Pierce with News of Tanna:

Yesterday my son Sam (living in Perth, Western Australia) rang his old schoolfriend Basil Leodoro, who is now a doctor at the Central Hospital in Vila. Basil said that he had been flown down to Tanna the previous day to check up on medical needs, and he spoke in person to Kalip. It would appear that Kalip and family are safe, and there hasn't been any loss of life in the Baha'i community. On Tanna, where most buildings are damaged or destroyed and all garden crops are devastated, the number of deaths so far reported (5) is miraculously low.

CNN Reports from Tanna

Update #3 Tue Mar 18, 2015 21:53 PDT
(Wed Mar 19, 2015, 15:53 Vanuatu time):
You have to love the Internet; I received an email from  Finland which conveyed the first News we got from Santo:

Dear Bryn,

You may not know me, but my wife Anne and I, together with our son Oscar, served during 2012-2013 in Santo. We know both Tony's (Deamer & Whitley) quite well and have close relationship also with the Bough family.

I saw your blog at <> and wanted to let you know that Lucy Whitley (in Australia) had new from her parents that they were fine. After the storm they were without electricity, but otherwise fine. Apparently they had been able to give the contact info of Lucy to some cruise ship tourists who had then relayed the news to Lucy.

We have also been in touch with the Bough family. We got an email from David and a facebook message from Carren. As you know they are all fine.

Our deepest concern, of course, is for the people of Vanuatu. I suspect that the gardens that have been destroyed won't be easy to get into productive shape again. As we witnessed in Santo, it takes quite a long time to till the land so it can bear reasonable fruit (at least in Santo, the ground is not very fertile at all).

Vanuatu, its people and the Bahá'í community are all in our prayers. We hope we were closer and in the position to be directly of some help.

With our very best wishes (and by way of introduction),

Partow Izadi (and family)
Senior Lecturer in Global Education
University of Lapland
Faculty of Education
P.O.Box 122
FIN-96101 Rovaniemi

Update #2 Mar 15, 2015 12:11 PDT:

(Mon Mar 16, 015 06:10 Vanuatu)

Just got off the Phone with Tony and Easuary. They assured me the Baha'i National Office suffered only minor damage with one roofing sheet lifting, but Baha'is were inside and sweeping the water out so damage was minimal. The original building (C 1957?) built for Bertha Dobbins to run the Nur School in is structurally sound - some cosmetic damage due to water leakage.   They have no concerns for the Rowhani School and the Whitley family in the northern island of Santo as the cyclone passed some 200km east of Santo so winds were much less severe there.

They have not yet heard from the Bahá'ís in Mele. Local pioneer Payman Rowhani is currently in China and his wife, Sima, is in Sydney, Australia (according to a Facebook post on March 13th.). They would normally be providing the best communiations with Mele.

Donna Loff in Canada posted news from Carren and Steven Bough who reported they were all safe, and their house only suffered minor water damage.

Telecommunications technicians flew to Tanna yesterday to work on re-establishing communications - but no news yet from the friends on that Island.

Tony and Easuary  received a phone call from a "Steven" (Gonzales perhaps) at the Bahá'í International Communty (BIC), New York, who asked Tony to find out from the National Spiritual Assembly what assistance the Universal House of Justice could offer - not so much for immediate relief as for rebuilding a bit further down the line - so the Bahá'í community will have the opportunity to assist at that point. For immediate financial assistance Tony and Easuary would recommend donating via the Red Cross (Easuary is the Treasurer so will make sure funds are well used!). Tony is contacting his fellow National Spiritual Assembly Members to respond to Steven's call.

Two of their three planes were in safe in Noumea and came back yesterday to assist with disaster relief. Their third one one was being worked on in a their hanger in Port Vila and sustained minor damage to the tail.

They had some five local families sheltering in their "A" frame house on their property, and when they contacted them by cell phone during the middle of the night of the cyclone, they responded that they could hardly here the wind at all!  Tony's property and house is at the base of a steep hill about 500ft high, which has always been a big protection. Even their huge breadfriut trees and coconuts still had most of their leaves on. (Easuary said she sent prayer of thanks to our departed mother Meg Deamer who was the reason the house was offered to us by the wonderful Bahá'ís of Ifira Island back in 1982.)

So Bottom Line - Tony and Easuary's feeling are that donating to the Red Cross will help with cover the cost of immediate humanitarian aide, and for the Bahá'ís who want to assist their fellow believers, they could make special donation to the International Bahá'í fund, earmarked to Vanuautu relief.

Update #8 Mon Mar 23, 2015. 1745 PDT
(Tue, Mar 24, 2015. 1145 VT)

Posts from Carren and Steve Bough on Face book:

Carren Bough yes they [Telecommunications] are up now we received news today 23 March, all Baha'i friends are fine.
14 hrs · Unlike · 2

Steven Bough. Even Nalau's garden was ok  There are two centers set up for communication by phone and email.

Update #7 Sun Mar 22, 2015. 2238 PDT
(Mon, Mar 23, 2015. 1638 VT)

Post on Face book by Mafar Bough
We had the most beautiful Nawruz celebration with some 60 Baha'is and a huge potlock lunch of rice, chicken and manioc and plenty of home-made sweets... joy and laughter and singing... happy Nawruz!

Naw Ruz 172 in Port Vila - one week after Cyclone Pam

Update #4 Wed Mar 19, 2015 0815 PDT
(Thu, Mar 20, 2015 0215 Vanuatu Time (VT)
Email to a friend from Carren Bough
Sent Tue 17th at 1900  VT

Dear ____,

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful email and hope that you are well.  The NSA email has changed to  They have electricity from a neighbour's generate at night so the secretary is able to check emails for now.  However the response may not be quick as you can imagine many offers are coming in from around the world.  Thank you for your prayers and thoughts at this time. 

The spirit of service is very high here in Vila with everyone pitching in to clean up and offering support to those in need.  The fruits of the institute process is revealing it's self everyday.  For example a group of youth who are temporarily staying at the Port Vila Bahá'í Centre are fasting together and systematically everyday go out in groups to assist the various Bahá'í communities to clean up. One day they went to the hospital to sing and cheer up the patience affected by the cyclone.  
At the moment we don't have any news from Tanna as the communication towers are down through out the country, but hope to hear some news soon.

Loving Bahá'í greetings,
Carren Bough

From Zina Deamer on Face book
in response to the  post in Humans of Vanuautu (see under)
Tue, Mar 17, 2015 1500 PDT (Wed Mar 17,2015,  0800 Brisbane.)

I spoke to dad last night and he said the same thing. Vanuatu is coming out of this cyclone in an optimistic, organised and practical way, most likely with smiles, pats in the back and friendly finger snaps.
Dad also told me that both his planes did several trips back and forth to Tanna. There is food in the ground and relief is on its way. He said it's hard to communicate there as many mobiles are out and paper and pens are rare.
Also ( in Vila) the fuel tanks are all digitally operated, no more hand pumps..getting fuel was harder than it needed to be.
The morals I'm getting from this: As useful as digital technology is, don't be reliant on it. The more you have the more you could lose.

From Humans of Vanuatu Face book page
(author unknown)
Posted Wed 18 March, 2015.

Sunrise, and another (very) long day ahead in Vanuatu.
I'm really thrilled to be able to say that Vanuatu is getting onto the front foot, after only a few days. I attended the second daily press briefing at the National Disaster Management Office yesterday. It was a tour de force. The government of Vanuatu is clearly in control, mobilising all available resources in the best way possible, and making sure that we do NOT end up being another Haiti, in which agencies, NGOs and pretty much anyone operated in a wild west atmosphere.
After the earthquake in Haiti, planes would simply appear over the runway, land and start dumping goods out the back without any consideration of what was already there, or even in some cases of what was needed. The duplication, waste and chaos was extreme. Vanuatu's National Disaster Committee has proven to be anything but. They're a small group of key public servants who have coalesced within mere days into a highly effective, efficient and organised unit.
As I was leaving the NDMO yesterday, I ran into a friend, a young economist. I asked him what he was doing there, expecting to hear that he was packing boxes or some such. 'Well,' he said, 'there's a team of us calculating the carrying capacity of the ports and airfields, trying to work out how much we need, how much we have and how much we can handle.'
Two days after the cyclone left our waters, we're already swinging into full gear.
Now the sobering news. There is wholesale destruction on Tanna. Over 80% of the homes are un-liveable. The same is true on nearby Erromango. The other, smaller islands in the south of Vanuatu seem to be OK, based on an aerial survey.
To the north of us, in Ambrym there is widespread damage in the southeast of the island. Nearby Paama is badly hit. In the Shepherds group, we fear the worst. Epi, Tongoa, Tongariki, Makira, Emae and several others were severely mauled. In some villages, the aerial survey didn't see a single intact edifice.
We were blessed to have an initial report of five fatalities on Tanna and none at all on Erromango. We can only hope those numbers were won't grow as the assessment teams work their way through the island. But because of the size and lack of usable airstrips in the Shepherds, nobody has been able to get boots on the ground yet. I hope to have more to say about this very soon.
I went home for a brief, hurried supper last night just around sundown. As I approached the door, the lights flickered and came on. I almost fell to my knees. The work that Public Works, UNELCO and French colleagues from nearby New Caledonia have done in the capital is nothing short of astounding. France is sending an entire shipload of goods from New Caledonia as we speak, so the pace of recovering our core infrastructure will only increase. Amazing.
The lights went off again after about three minutes, and haven't come back on since, but they are on for two filling stations in town, several key stores and bakeries, and increasingly for businesses. I am, for the first time, filled with hope.
There is an IMMENSE task ahead of us. But so far, we seem to be doing it right. We were flat on the mat, but we're getting back on our feet now, and soon (today, tomorrow) we'll be hitting back.
Finally, thank you all so much for the amazingly kind and caring messages you've been sending. Even if I haven't been able to help you individually with your concerns about certain residents here, I can assure you all I've been conveying your message of support to everyone I meet.
Okay, back into the fire....

Update #1 Mar 15, 2015. 10:55 PDT:

Tony’s children Parviz and Zina have both been able to talk to him – they are O.K. - house stayed standing.  Zina's mother, Elizabeth, (Tony’s first wife) also OK and in Port Vila at the time, so no news of the rest of the family on Tanna.  Pioneers Bough’s have been heard from and are O.K.. No news of how the Bahá'í Haziratul-Quds faired, and no news from Santo of the Pioneers Whitely family, and the Rowhani School has come my way yet.

I’ve left a couple of voice mails on his cell phone, and will try again when the sun rises in a couple of hours (04:30 Monday morning a the moment. I especially want to ask his recommendation for relief – both he and his wife are on he Board of Directors of the Vanuautu Red Cross. (Scroll down to the bottom half of to see the directory.)

His biggest plane was stuck in Vila and got slight damage, but the other two planes were safer in Noumea (although winds got pretty strong there too I would guess.   See for his “fleet”!)

Zina reports he is looking forward to getting them all in the air to help with relief efforts.

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