Vanuatu - Earthquake/Tsunami OCHA Situation Report No. 1

Ref: OCHA/GVA - 99/0238
Vanuatu - Earthquake/Tsunami
OCHA Situation Report No. 1
30 November 1999

A state of emergency has been declared.


1. An earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter Scale was recorded at 00:21hrs local time on Saturday 1999 (Friday, 26 November 1999, 13:21 GMT) to the south-west of the Vanuatan island of Pentecost. The earthquake was centered at latitude 16.4 South and longitude 168.2 East. The island, which has a population of about 12,000 and is about 63 km long and 12 km wide, was the worst hit area. The earthquake was followed within fifteen minutes by a tsunami that swept ashore at Marteli Bay on the southern tip of the island. The tidal wave reportedly reached about 2 kilometres into the bush.

2. The earthquake was felt in Port Vila, 450 km to the south. Minor damage has also occurred on the islands of Ambrym, Malekula and Epi. It is possible that the nearby islands of Ambae, Maewo and Paama could be affected as well.

3. The effects of the earthquake across Pentecost appear to be relatively localised. Eight fatalities have been reported; five persons died when their house collapsed in the central village of Ena; three others died after being swept out to sea by the tsunami. A further two are missing. About 40 serious injuries were also reported, particularly at Ena village, Melsisi Mission, Ranwadi High School, and the nearby areas. After the earthquake, the sea receded about 0.5 km from the shore. Some residents recognized this as the sign of an impending tsunami and managed to warn everyone to seek higher ground.

4. The earthquake caused numerous landslides and, although destruction of garden areas is reported, crop losses are not thought to be widespread. In addition the tremor caused damage to both buildings and other infrastructure.

5. The tsunami at Marteli Bay has flattened all low-lying structures including the brick schoolhouse, leaving only the church still standing. It destroyed the piped water supply, caused loss of all public and private possessions in the community including 7 boats and 4 generators, and covered gardens in silt. Banmatmat Bible College was also damaged, and landslides restrict the already limited access to the area.

6. Pentecost's already pre-existing access problems are now significantly worsened due to landslides. Several slopes are clearly unstable, posing a threat in the next heavy rainfall to people directly in their path, and cutting access to essential services for many more. Water supply has also been affected, as wells have caved in, water catchments affected, and some water tanks were toppled, though these should be capable of repair.

National Response

7. The first action of the Vanuatu Police Force (VPF) was to dispatch air and ground reconnaissance to confirm local reports and to provide initial assessment of the extent and severity of the disaster. The same day helicopters based in Vila ferried government ministers and officials, medical and VPF personnel to central Pentecost, and on return evacuated the seriously injured to Vila, Lolowai and Luganville. Two naval vessels were immediately tasked to assist with the search for those missing in Marteli Bay and to assist with casualty evacuations to Lolowai. A medical team was flown to Lonoro on South Pentecost, and a communications technician was deployed with portable radios.

8. The Vanuatu Red Cross Society is playing a leading role in meeting the needs of the affected population, with relief supplies such as tarpaulins, plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans, purification tablets and clothing. The Society stands ready to participate in further assessment and support to relief operations.

9. Coordination at national and provincial level seems to be effective. The Government has conducted briefings through its
National Disaster Management Office for Diplomatic Representatives, NGOs and relevant departments on the situation and the response made by the police, the Ministry of Health, and the national Red Cross Society. A state of emergency has been declared and the Police have implemented Operation "Penam-Quake" to coordinate the response.


10. In the immediate term the needs are for shelter, potable water, medical attention and food. The 3,000 inhabitants of Marteli Bay urgently need water purification tablets, clothing, tarpaulins for temporary shelter, basic household utensils, kerosine lanterns, and garden tools, having lost all their homes, possessions, crops and food stocks. In the medium to longer term, the need is for the restoration of road access throughout Pentecost, and assistance in rehabilitating the Marteli Bay community, including the re-establishment of livelihoods.

International Response

11. The Council of Ministers has agreed to request both financial and in-kind assistance, particularly in logistic support, from France, Australia and New Zealand through the "FRANZ" coordination agreement. A French Army helicopter based in New Caledonia has already provided aerial reconnaissance. UK (DFID) has offered immediate and longer-term support with water supply, including the rehabilitation and repair of damaged tanks, and in the provision of household utensils and tools.

12. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies regional delegation in Suva is in contact with the National Society and is considering sending technical help in health and logistics, to assist with a full assessment of damage and needs. The Federation has released CHF 50,000 (USD 32,680) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Funds to meet initial needs.

13. The United Nations System has offered a range of financial and technical assistance, including the possibility of an OCHA emergency grant to pay for relief items or logistics, and assistance with the assessment of immediate relief orlonger-term recovery needs. OCHA is in close contact with the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator and the OCHA Regional Disaster Response Advisor in Fiji to explore possibilities for assistance, based on the response awaited from the Government of Vanuatu.

14. This situation report and further information on ongoing emergencies are also available on the OCHA Internet Website at

Telephone number: +41-22-917 12 34
In case of emergency: Tel. +41-22-917 20 10

Desk Officers: Ms. S. Metzner-Strack/Mr. R. Mueller/Mr. S. Matsuka, OCHA Disaster Response Branch, direct Tel. +41-22-917-21 44 / 31 31 / 40 34

Press contact: Ms. E. Ponomareva, direct Tel. +41-22-917 23 36
Telex: 414242 OCHA CH
Fax: +41-22-917 00 23


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