By Paul Dobbyn
CARITAS Australia’s Stephanie Lalor joined with one of Port Vila’s battered communities at a packed Mass last Sunday as the islanders gave thanks for surviving killer Cyclone Pam.
The Pacific Programs manager and former resident of Port Vila, who arrived in Vanuatu a week earlier, continued to find the experience bitter-sweet.
“About 300 people attended the 9am Mass which packed Paray parish’s Immaculate Heart of Mary Church,” she said.
“The priest encouraged people to work together as they recover from the disaster.
“Later, I heard from many that they thought it a particularly important time to gather together to be thankful for surviving the cyclone.
“At the same time, it has been really sad coming back to Port Vila, and seeing so many places destroyed.
“The stories of those affected are heartbreaking – they have endured a frightening experience and are living with uncertainty about the future.”
Category 5 Cyclone Pam unleashed gales of up to 340km/h on Vanuatu on March 13.
Eleven deaths from the cyclone have so far been confirmed.
The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated 166,000 people had been affected on 22 of the archipelago’s islands, with thousands in evacuation centres and tens of thousands in need of temporary shelter.
Vanuatu’s government is co-ordinating relief efforts, attempting to get immediate aid to more than 60 inhabited remote islands.
Ms Lalor is “amazed and impressed by the commitment and dedication” of the Diocesan Disaster Committee set up by the Port Vila’s Bishop Jean Bosco Baremes.
“The committee continues to work closely with the National Disaster Management Office and other NGOs and groups working to respond to the impact of Cyclone Pam,” she said.
“They have worked tirelessly, including after Mass last Sunday, to ensure we are able to respond as and when needs are identified.
“Some of the members on the committee have had their own houses damaged and are still without power, yet their first thoughts are for how they can be of service to others.”
Aid from the Australian Government has included the landing of supplies and aid workers on Royal Australian Air Force transport flights and the arrival of HMAS Tobruk with additional supplies and personnel to assist with the clean-up.