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Hope to help home

LIHUE — While Kenny Nalesere was growing up in Vanuatu, preparing for the tropical cyclones that graze the archipelago nation at least once a year was part of his family’s life in Shepherd Islands.

But as Cyclone Pam quickly made its way across the northeast Pacific Ocean and gained strength along the way, Kapaa residents Kenny Nalesere and his wife, Katie, watched its movements several thousand miles away.

“We were trying to call family and no one knew if it was going to actually hit, because we’ve had a lot of warnings,” said Kenny Nalesere’s wife, Katie Nalesere. “In this case, it just made direct landfall over the main islands.” 

It has been nearly two weeks since the storm system, packing sustained winds of at least 158 miles per hour, struck Vanuatu, and the Naleseres are hopeful for the island’s recovery over the next few months but acknowledge that it will take some time and support to get the nation on its feet.

“I think the short-term support is going to be OK, but I think the mid- to long-term building back is going to take a really long time, a lot of money and help,” Katie Nalesere said. “Kenny’s family on the island are subsistence farmers, so they can’t even buy what was destroyed or lost like plates, cups or clothing — they have to go to the capital to buy and get it shipped up.” 

About 277,000 people reside in the island nation, located about 497 miles east of Fiji and 143 miles northeast of the French collective of New Caledonia, according to the Vanuatu National Statistics Office in the capital city of Port Vila.  

About 166,600 people, or 59 percent of the nation’s total population, are directly impacted by the hurricane, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. About 96 percent of the crops on Vanuatu have also been destroyed, leaving people with no alternative food stocks.

Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are the same weather phenomenon, but different terms are used for these storms in different regions of the world. 

The term “hurricane” is used in the Atlantic and northeast Pacific Ocean regions, including Hawaii. The same type of disturbance in the northwest Pacific ocean is called a “typhoon,” and “cyclones” occur in the south Pacific and Indian Ocean, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  

During the hurricane, Kenny Nalesere said his family took shelter in schools and homes — many of which were destroyed or damaged. 

His sister now lives in a house that was tilted by the strong storm surge that battered the coastlines and is full of sand. His son, meanwhile, is living in another home with no roof. 

“It just rained last night, so they had to stand in a corner of the house until the rain stopped,” Kenny Nalesere said. “They’ve been closing up all the shelters, so they’re giving out tarps. They’re just living wherever they can find space.” 

He is thankful, however, that his family members were not severely injured, even if many of them have not yet received aid and are still surviving off of coconuts, papayas, bananas and other food blown off by the storm.

“They know to prepare and they know what to do, and that’s why I think, so far, only about 11 people have been confirmed dead, which is crazy compared to how strong it was,” Katie Nalesere said. “It just did way more damage than any other one and it hit some of the most populated islands, too, which makes it that much more destructive.”

Nalesere said she is planning to set up a fundraiser that would benefit the American Red Cross and other organizations that are assisting island residents.

Info: Katie Nalesere, 855-5276 and ktgrace@gmail.com.

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