Cyclone Oma trashes Pacific islands as it moves towards Queensland coast

Buildings damaged by tropical cyclone Oma in Vanuatu. Source: Red Cross Vanuatu

Tropical Cyclone Oma has weakened to a category two storm as it heads towards the Queensland coast, but it has already left trail of destruction through the Pacific Islands.

Tropical cyclone Oma has left a trail of destruction through Australia’s nearest neighbours as it heads towards the south-east Queensland coast as a Category 2 weather system.

Thousand of houses have been damaged, hundreds evacuated and crops destroyed in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia.

A bauxite bulk carrier was run aground on a reef by the storm in the Solomon Islands, threatening to spill oil near at the UNESCO World Heritage listed island.

Oma hit category 3 as it passed to the north of New Caledonia, where about 10,000 houses were left without power and roads blocked by fallen trees, landslides and flooding but only one person was reported injured.

"This cyclone is a harsh blow for agriculture, almost all harvests are destroyed or damaged in the affected areas,” MP for New Caledonia Philippe Gomès told NC La 1ere, calling for the release of national aid to the French territory.

School in the northern province has been cancelled until Monday.

Earlier Oma cut an erratic path through the northern islands of Vanuatu for five days before moving south-west and warnings were cancelled on Monday.

About 1000 people in the Torba and Sanma provinces sheltered in evacuation centres and hundreds are now facing food shortages after crops were destroyed, the Vanuatu Daily Post reported.

Red Cross Vanuatu said storm surges rushed up to 50 metres inland on low-lying islands and it has started distributing tarpaulins, tools and cooking implements.

In the Solomon Islands preparations for April’s national election have been delayed, with candidates struggling to reach registration booths before the deadline as flights were grounded and ships stayed in port.

The cyclone first developed near the country’s southern islands two weeks ago with damage reported in Makira, Malaita and Temotu.

“It has been quite bad. The communities have not even recovered from the first weather event in December/January,” director of the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) Loti Yates told Radio New Zealand Pacific.

“It is just an ongoing impact to the communities. Especially of concern here would be food security and health.”

Oma is currently about 1000 kilometres off the Queensland coast.

Heavy rain combined with king tides are expected to cause some localised flooding, but forecasters are undecided if it will make landfall or head back out to sea in the coming days.

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