TIME Vanuatu

Aid Agencies Struggle to Reach Affected in Vanuatu After ‘Monster’ Cyclone Pam

President says rising sea levels due to climate change exacerbated the situation

Vanuatu’s President Baldwin Lonsdale says the tiny South Pacific island nation has lost much of its development due to the havoc wreaked over the weekend by “monster” Cyclone Pam.

“It’s a setback for the government and for the people of Vanuatu. After all the development that has taken place, all this development has been wiped out,” he told the Associated Press in Japan attending a U.N. conference on disaster-risk reduction. “We will have to start anew again.”

Lonsdale went on to say that climate change contributed to the devastation as the low-lying islands of the Pacific are suffering from rising sea levels.

International aid agencies along with military personnel from Australia, France and New Zealand have arrived in Vanuatu to assess the damage and deliver much needed aid and supplies.

Oxfam, who led coordination efforts in preparing for the storm, said 90% of housing in the capital, Port Vila, has been seriously damaged as the Category 5 cyclone ripped through the country bringing with it wind speeds of up to 168 m.p.h. on Friday and Saturday.

The government of Vanuatu declared a state of emergency on Sunday for Shefa province, which includes Port Vila.

Military planes started carrying out surveillance flights on Monday to assess the damage, but the full extent of the devastation in the many vulnerable outer islands, which are home to 33,000 people, is still unknown. Humanitarian organization World Vision told TIME that given the severity of the damage in Port Vila, they “fear the worst” for the other 81 islands. Only 21 of the agency’s 80 staff across the archipelago nation have been accounted for.

The death toll currently stands at eight with more than 30 injured, but that is expected to rise as rescue teams reach remote areas.

World Vision says the hospital in Port Vila, which suffered damage in the storm, is operational but overcrowded and vehicles are short on fuel. Evacuation centers are packed and humanitarian agencies are focusing their responses on providing food, water, sanitation, shelter, health care and child protection to the thousands of people left homeless and vulnerable.

According to aid group ReliefWeb, Internet, radio and GSM communications remain offline throughout the country with the exception of Port Vila, which has intermittent services. More than 80% of power lines in the capital are down and will not be fully restored for several weeks.

Oxfam county director Colin Collet van Rooyen said damage to hospitals, schools and morgues could create major problems in the coming days.

“With extra help arriving on the Australian government plane today, we now have a team of 10 people working on this emergency response, and there is a lot of work to be done,” he said from Port Vila.

Cyclone Pam also caused serious damage in nine other countries including Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands, according to the U.N. The cyclone, which has now been downgraded, has moved on to New Zealand, where hundreds of people are without power.

TIME natural disaster

Reflections on the Earthquake in Japan, 4 Years Later

Japan Earthquake cover
Cover Credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY ALY SONG / REUTERS The Mar. 28, 2011, cover of TIME

On Mar. 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit Japan

It has now been four years to the day since an earthquake and tsunami upended Japan. These days, the country continues to rebound from the devastating natural disaster that struck on Mar. 11, 2011, with cleanup — nuclear and otherwise — and reflection ongoing.

In the days and weeks immediately following the earthquake, those questions were all the more urgent.

TIME devoted a special report to the aftermath of the disaster, taking a look at Japan’s nuclear power industry as well as its national character. The insights drawn from those investigations are still worth heeding, even today. As TIME’s Nancy Gibbs wrote in the aftermath of the quake:

It only started as a natural disaster; the next waves were all man-made, as money fled to higher ground. Fear and uncertainty sheared $700 billion off the Toyko Stock Exchange in three days. Japan makes nearly a quarter of the world’s semiconductors and most of its gadgets. Sony suspended production at seven plants; carmakers slowed output, fearful of gaps in the supply chain; power companies scheduled rolling blackouts. How can a global recovery take hold if the world’s third largest economy is out of business, even temporarily? Meanwhile, Switzerland announced a freeze on new nuclear plants, Germany shut down all its facilities built before 1980, and the U.S. Congress called for hearings on nuclear safety. The flooded Japanese plants will never reopen. But demand for power only grows.

We sleep easy in the soft arms of clichés: hope for the best, prepare for the worst; risk varies inversely with knowledge; it’s a waste of time to think about the unthinkable. But Japan shook those soothing assumptions. No amount of planning, no skills or specs or spreadsheets, can stop a force that moves the planet.

Read the full special report, here in the TIME Vault: Japan’s Meltdown

TIME natural disaster

The Odds of a Massive Earthquake Hitting California Just Went Up

The Marina district disaster zone after an earthquake, measuring 7.1 on the richter scale on Oct. 17, 1989 in San Francisco.
Otto Greule Jr—Getty Images The Marina district disaster zone after an earthquake, measuring 7.1 on the richter scale on Oct. 17, 1989 in San Francisco.

But the chances of a moderate earthquake went down

The chances of earthquake magnitude 8.0 or greater hitting California in the next 30 years have been increased from about 4.7% to 7%, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said in a statement Tuesday.

The revised forecast was calculated by the Third California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF3), a follow-up to 2008’s UCERF2 conducted by USGS and its partners, who modeled the latest geological data.

While UCERF3 increased the odds of a massive California earthquake, the study lowered the chance of an earthquake around magnitude 6.7—like the 1994 Northridge earthquake—by about 30%, from one every 4.8 years to one every 6.3 years.

“The new likelihoods are due to the inclusion of possible multi-fault ruptures, where earthquakes are no longer confined to separate, individual faults, but can occasionally rupture multiple faults simultaneously,” said the study’s lead author Ned Field.

Read next: A Village in Italy Just Got 8 Feet of Snow in 1 Day

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME natural disaster

Five Years Later, See TIME’s Coverage of the Haiti Earthquake

Haiti cover
PHOTOGRAPHS BY IVANOH DEMERS/MONTREAL LA PRESSE/AP The Jan. 25, 2010, cover of TIME

The earthquake devastated a nation that was on the verge of achieving long-term economic and political stability

Five years ago on Monday, just as the Caribbean nation of Haiti was beginning to stand on solid footing, the ground beneath it shook. The tremor flattened buildings and killed more than 200,000 people, bringing to a halt the country’s slow but encouraging progress toward economic and political stability.

“Tragedy has a way of visiting those who can bear it least,” TIME’s Michael Elliott observed shortly after, reporting on the earthquake. By then, the devastation wrought by the tremor was coming into focus. The capital city of Port-au-Prince, just 15 miles from the epicenter, had been largely leveled; the National Palace and the city’s cathedral were destroyed; and aid workers were already pleading for international help with messages like this email from Louise Ivers, clinical director for Haiti for the NGO Partners in Health: “Port-au-Prince is devastated, lot of deaths. SOS. SOS … Please help us.”

Support did flow in, in the form of aid workers, foreign aid, and more than $1 billion in charity. But the earthquake set back years of development work in the impoverished country. As TIME reported:

What makes the earthquake especially ‘cruel and incomprehensible,’ as U.S. President Barack Obama put it, was that it struck at a rare moment of optimism. After decades of natural and political catastrophes, the U.N. peacekeeping force and an international investment campaign headed by former President Bill Clinton, the U.N.’s special envoy to Haiti, had recently begun to calm and rebuild the nation.

Starting from scratch, the post-earthquake rebuilding process has made headway. Rubble that covered the ground and blocked transit routes, one of the most tangible signs of the country’s slow recovery in the months after the earthquake, has now largely been cleared. Infrastructure, including a new airport, has been rebuilt. And the number of people living in makeshift tent homes has dropped from some 1.5 million to 70,000, Harry Adam, head of the Department for Construction of Housing and Public Buildings told AFP.

But Haiti, which still hosts the U.N. peacekeeping force known as MINUSTAH (the French acronym for the mission), has a long path ahead. On Friday, the United Nations issued a grim warning of the risks facing the country, the poorest in the western hemisphere. “Persistent chronic poverty and inequality, environmental degradation and continuing political uncertainty threaten achievements Haitians have made over the past five years,” Wendy Bigham, the World Food Programme’s representative in Haiti, said in a statement. Meanwhile, an ongoing political crisis over long-overdue elections has slowed critical recovery efforts and threatens to devolve further. Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, largely credited with overseeing much of the nation’s reconstruction since he took office in 2012, resigned last month amid mass street protests, but his departure has failed to lead to political compromise.

In a statement Wednesday that highlighted the consequences of political instability, the U.N. called for a political compromise by the end of the week “in order to strengthen stability, preserve the democratic gains and ensure sustainable development in Haiti.” Five year’s after the earthquake, Haiti can still scarcely bear more turmoil.

Browse TIME’s special issue about the Haiti earthquake: Haiti’s Tragedy

TIME Malaysia

Flooding Kills 24 in Malaysia and Thailand

Flood situation worsens in north-east Malaysia
Azhar Rahim—EPA An aerial view of a settlement submerged by floodwaters in the Pengkalan Chepa district of Kelantan, Malaysia, Dec. 28, 2014.

Nearly 160,000 have been left homeless since the flooding began

Flooding in Malaysia and Thailand has killed 24 people and left nearly 160,000 homeless since mid-December, in the deadliest regional flood season in a decade, according to recent reports.

Malaysian authorities said the rain is expected to last at least another week, Reuters reported.

The death total includes 10 in Malaysia and 14 in Southern Thailand.

The news comes as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak visited sites of the flooding following his return from Hawaii on Friday. Razak had been criticized for playing golf with U.S. President Barack Obama during the floods.

[Reuters]

TIME natural disaster

What Caused the Boxing Day Tsunami

Tsunami Cover
TIME The Jan. 10, 2005, cover of TIME

Read TIME's report on the the natural disaster that struck ten years ago.

The day of Dec. 26, 2004, started with an earthquake, off the coast of Sumatra, and only got worse as the resulting tsunami hit coastal nations throughout the Indian Ocean.

As TIME explained in a special issue devoted to the devastation, the geology behind the tsunami caused a chain reaction of disaster:

Geologists describe the tectonics–the almost imperceptibly slow movement of massive plates–of the southern Indian Ocean as complex because a number of plates converge there. The floor of the Indian Ocean–the Indian plate–is moving north at around 2.5 in. per year, about twice the rate that your fingernails grow. As it moves, it is forced under the Burma plate to its east. Eighteen miles below the surface of the ocean, stresses that had been gradually accumulating forced the Burma plate to snap upward. That was a huge geological event, eventually measured at 9.0 on the Richter scale. The dislocation of the boundary between the Indian and Burma plates took place over a length of 745 miles and within three days had set off 68 aftershocks.

The movement of the plates sent shock waves through the water. Although tsunamis are often (incorrectly) called tidal waves, they have nothing to do with tides. They are, rather, very long waves–sometimes with hundreds of miles between their crests–that race along the ocean at speeds that can reach almost 500 miles an hour. In deep, open water, you would never notice even the most devastating tsunamis, which are often no more than a few inches high there. But when the water’s depth decreases, the wavelength shortens and the height of the wave increases. Then it crashes onto shore with the power to wreck buildings and throw trucks around as if they were Ping-Pong balls.

Tsunamis, moreover, have a trick up their watery sleeve, one that can trap the unwary. If the trough of a wave hits the shore before a crest, the first thing that anyone on shore notices is not water rushing onto the land but the opposite. That is what happened in Thailand and Sri Lanka. In the Sri Lankan town of Trincomalee, a hotel manager remembers the sea rushing out so the beach became magically full of gorgeous, colorful, stranded fish. “Men ran down to the shore with gunny-bags and stuffed them full of fish,” he says. On Phuket, Tiina Seppanen, a Finn, 20, on vacation with her sister and mother, also noticed that the tide had gone way out. “People were saying it was something to do with the full moon,” she says. And just as in Sri Lanka, people went on to the beach to collect the fish that had been stranded.

Tiina Seppanen survived, but more than 100,000 others did not. Read the rest of the special issue, here in the TIME Vault, to learn more about what happened: Tsunami

TIME Thailand

See Personal Possessions of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami Victims

Ten years after the devastating tsunami killed more than 227,000 people, possessions of some victims found in a shipping container are arranged to be photographed outside a police station in Phang Nga province, Thailand on Dec. 19, 2014

TIME natural disaster

See the Worst Natural Disasters of 2014

When it comes to acts of God, 2014 wasn’t a particularly active year. No powerful hurricane struck the U.S. like Sandy in 2012 or Katrina in 2005. There was no singlecatastrophic event like the Asian tsunami of 2004, which killed nearly 300,000 people, the Haiti earthquake of 2010, which killed over 200,000, or even the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland in 2010, which disrupted air travel for weeks.

But while there wasn’t a single iconic catastrophe, Mother Earth was still plenty busy in 2014. A volcano in Hawaii, a typhoon in the Philippines, wildfires in California and seven feet of snow in Buffalo—this year has witnessed its share of extreme weather and other natural disasters. The photos that follow are a reminder that when the Earth moves or the heavens strike, the results can be gorgeous to see—provided you’re not caught in the middle.

MORE: The most beautiful wildfire photos you’ll ever see

TIME Australia

Worst Storm in Decades Smashes Into Brisbane Causing Widespread Damage

Conditions in places were equivalent to a category 2 cyclone

Thousands of residents of Queensland, Australia, have been left without power after the worst storm in decades battered the state capital Brisbane on Thursday.

Golf-ball sized hailstones and winds of up to 90 mph tore roofs from buildings and brought down 642 power lines, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

“We had to run to get out of there, the speed of the hailstones were like bullets,” resident John Arthur told the ABC. “The place looked like a warzone.”

A huge cleanup operation is now underway with state-owned electricity supplier Energex working to restore power to 90,000 homes and emergency service crews clearing up debris left in the storm’s wake.

“[Saturday] will be a big day … lots of volunteers from SES and Rural Fire Service will be out … I estimate by end of tomorrow a large part of the recovery side will be done,” said Neil Gallant, acting deputy commissioner of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services.

Twelve people were injured during Thursday’s supercell storm but thankfully there were no fatalities.

“I’m astounded but so grateful that that is all that we’ve got given the amount of shrapnel flying around last night,” said Campbell Newman, the Premier of Queensland.

The state’s transport minister estimated the damage would cost more than $85 million to repair.

[ABC]

TIME hawaii

Watch Lava Burn Through Asphalt Outside Hawaii Town

The stream of lava continues to advance after devouring its first house on Monday

The lava flow threatening the Hawaii town of Pahoa continues to advance, devouring its first house on Monday and setting an asphalt road on fire Wednesday.

Hawaii Civil Defense officials are currently monitoring three breakouts from the main lava stream, but say that there are no immediate threats to residents, reports Hawaii News Now.

The lava flow emanates from a June 27 eruption at the Kilauea volcano, which has been active for 31 years.

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