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“The roof was blown off, and flooding had come in” – Sarah’s story

Seven-month pregnant, Sarah Charlie was very worried when she learned that a Category 5 cyclone was heading straight for her coastal village of Ekipe. It did not help that her husband was away in New Zealand working, and she had four children to care for.

“Just before the cyclone came, we went to stay with my brother and uncles,” Sarah said. Her uncle had a sturdy house nearby, but she had doubts that her own home would survive Cyclone Pam.

As she took shelter with her relatives, the wind picked up, the rain came down, and the massive storm roared ashore over Efate island where the capital, Port Vila, is situated.

During the long, terrifying night, Sarah and her relatives hardly slept. “We were so frightened, some of us were shaking,” she recalled. “We heard the roof come off another building. There was screaming, yelling, praying.”

When the storm subsided and it was finally safe to walk outside, they were shocked at what the storm had done to their small seaside village.

“So much was destroyed,” she said. “Everything was gone.” Some houses were totally demolished, and even more were damaged. Flooding caused by the storm surge had carried away most of their belongings. Trees were down all over the village.

“We cried,” Sarah said. “I was just wishing that Charlie would come home.”

In New Zealand, 37-year-old Charlie Tari had been working as a seasonal labourer, doing kiwi pruning to support his family. After he heard about the cyclone, he grew worried about Sarah and his children, so he quickly made arrangements to fly home to Vanuatu.

“My family is ok,” Charlie said sombrely as he waited for his flight at the Auckland airport, “but my home is gone. Everything is damaged. They need me to go back, to help them rebuild the house.”

After a three-hour flight to Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila, he then travelled an hour by road, finally arriving home in Ekipe. As Charlie approached his house, he was stunned by what he found.

“When Charlie came, he couldn’t speak,” Sarah recalled. “The roof was blown off, and flooding had come in.” Although most of the walls were still standing, the kitchen had totally collapsed.

As the villagers began to get over the shock of what had happened, they quickly set to work. With much of the village destroyed or damaged, Ekipe’s residents began to clean up the debris, and repaired the houses as best as they could.

So far, the only aid that the village of Ekipe has received after the cyclone were a pair of chainsaws and rakes that they used to clean up debris. With their baby due to arrive in May, Charlie and Sarah want to repair their heavily damaged house and move back home.

“We need building materials and food,” Sarah said. “We need corrugated iron roofing, so that Charlie can rebuild our house.”

Charlie’s list on what he thinks the village needs to rebuild is more detailed. “We need timber, nails, saws, hammers, and roofing. We need the other countries to help.”

Habitat for Humanity is committed to helping the people of Vanuatu recover and rebuild their lives. We will be assisting in house repairs in the coming months and supporting affected families in how to repair their houses. Your support is crucial to help those in desperate need.

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