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Being prepared saved our lives

Early warning systems and simple acts of preparation saved Fabrina and her children when Cyclone Pam hit their village on 13 March.

Fabrina is grateful to Red Cross for warning her community in Efate over the radio about the onset of Tropical Cyclone Pam.

Without the alert, she says, her family may not have survived the night.

"We heard that a very large cyclone was coming, the strongest to ever to hit the island," said Fabrina. "The advice we got was we must prepare properly to make sure we don't get hurt. We should find a safe shelter and stay in one place for the night."

In the months before the cyclone, Vanuatu Red Cross had worked with Fabrina's community to help them understand what to do in such an event. She and her family immediately put cast-iron sheets over the windows and doors of her father's house as extra protection during the storm.

She also filled water containers. "We knew from the Red Cross that the cyclone could contaminate our water sources, so we made sure we filled up all our containers with enough clean water to last a few days."

With its network of community volunteers in all provinces and islands, Red Cross played a key role in issuing early warnings before Cyclone Pam struck the country. As a result, most people were able to evacuate to safety and loss of life was low.

Before the cyclone made landfall, Fabrina went to her father's house with her four children. They sheltered there along with Fabrina's grandparents, sister, brother-in-law and their two children. Fabrina's husband went to his parents' home to make sure they were safe.

As the cyclone reached its full force, one of the iron sheets was ripped from the roof of the house where they were sheltering and the family had to move to another room as rain poured in.

"The little ones were so afraid, they were crying with the sound of the wild wind. I was also terrified and thought to myself that we might die during the night."

Fabrina spent the night crying and praying there would be no loss of life. In the morning, once the cyclone had passed, she found scenes of total devastation in her village.

"It was hard to see our village like this, the cyclone caused so much damage," she says. "But here people just go on with life. Immediately people had started cleaning up. We had enough food and clean water to last the first few days and now we have clean water from Red Cross," she explains, referring to the water treatment unit that Vanuatu Red Cross has installed to provide safe drinking water until the village water tank is cleaned.

Red Cross is now focussing on meeting immediate needs: clean drinking water, cooking items and emergency shelter materials.

Story: Madeline Wilson/IFRC. Photo: IFRC