Only three months into 2020 and Cyclone Harold is the strongest storm on the planet, a late-season tropical cyclone that has left serious damage and fatalities in its path.
After bringing damaging winds, flooding rains and storm surge to the Republic of Vanuatu Monday and Tuesday as a Category 5 storm briefly, with winds peaking at 265 km/h, Harold is now passing south of Fiji as of Wednesday morning local time.
The storm now has the strength equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 204 km/h. While the Fiji islands will be spared a direct impact, they will get hit by heavy rains and powerful winds.
Fiji Airways has moved several aircraft overseas to avoid damage as the intense cyclone approaches, according to the Fijian Broadcasting Corporation.
On Friday, the storm swept 27 people off of a ferry in the Solomon Islands when it passed through that nation. Six bodies have been recovered so far. In Vanuatu, no deaths have been reported as yet, but the storm badly disrupted communications and damaged several structures.
Tropical Cyclone Harold over Vanuatu https://t.co/yg4B2fZ63I Powerful #TropicalCycloneHarold, the strongest yet recorded in 2020, made landfall on the southwestern coast of Espiritu Santo Island, #Vanuatu, on April 6 at... #Weather #storm #CycloneHaroldNASA MODIS Imagery on Twitter
Vanuatu #TCHarold #CycloneHarold Destruction on one of many islands #MaloIsland. Communication outages hinder an assessment of the widespread damage which has certainly occurred.Sandra in Vanuatu on Twitter
CycloneHarold #Vanuatu Ouest de Malo Santo Crédit photo : Neham Moli.ericosx on Twitter
peepholeview #cycloneharold #vanuatu When Cyclone Pam hit 5 years ago, the world rushed to help. Efate has escaped the worst this time, but not Santo and Pentecost. A category 5 cyclone amidst a global pandemic, Vanuatu is going to have to dig deep to help itself. https://t.co/LS4c0ZCmowGinny Stein on Twitter
🇦🇺 has just provided 🇸🇧 with SBD500,000 in immediate emergency funding to respond to the damage being inflicted by Cyclone Harold. 🇦🇺 stands ready to assist further as the extent of the damage across 🇸🇧 becomes known. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of 🇸🇧.Lachie Strahan on Twitter
Prior to the storm's landfall, Vanuatu authorities declared a red alert in several provinces, urging people to prepare. The country has been under a state of emergency since late March due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Vanuatu is one of the few countries in the world without any confirmed cases of the virus, but fears are rampant that an outbreak could occur, as its health-care system would struggle to cope.
6 BODIES RECOVERED AFTER STORM SWEEPS 27 OFF OF FERRY
According to media reports, Solomon Islands police retrieved six bodies in their search for 27 people who went missing after being swept from a ferry by the cyclone as it passed through the islands Friday.
The passengers were swept off a passenger vessel that was travelling from Honiara to West Are Are port in the Malaita province. They were travelling back in a charter as part of COVID-19 contingency plans.
'Cyclone' is the name given to a tropical disturbance that forms in the Indian Ocean or South Pacific. Such storms are called hurricanes in the Atlantic and typhoons in the North Pacific, and are formed in the same way, though cyclones rotate clockwise.