This week, dire news continues to come in from Vanuatu, as residents struggle to recover from the destruction unleashed by Cyclone Pam on the island nation. Although Vanuatu may have experienced the most damage, it’s not the only place to feel the impacts. Today on Human Nature, CI’s Greg Stone reports from Kiribati.
A lagoon in Tarawa, Kiribati. Although all seems placid in this photo, taken a few days after Cyclone Pam, the storm caused major damage to the capital’s main causeway. (© Conservation International/photo by Greg Stone)
The sun rose quick and quiet over Tarawa. This island is home to the capital of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati, the largest atoll nation in the world and the only country that is in all four hemispheres; its 33 islands in the Central Pacific straddle both the equator and the international dateline.
The previous evening had been pleasant, with a genial ocean breeze. Now the sun commanded the sky and drove the temperature above 90 degrees Fahrenheit [32 degrees Celsius]. Sweat ran down my back and off my forehead as I walked along the edge of the lagoon.
I had returned to Kiribati to meet with government officials and partners working together on the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), a project CI has been involved with for over 10 years. I had more than PIPA on my mind, however, as Cyclone Pam — a Category 5 storm — had just spun like a giant pinwheel across the South Pacific. At its strongest, it generated gusts of wind up to nearly 200 miles an hour, flattening thousands of buildings and killing at least 11.
Unlike Vanuatu, Cyclone Pam did not directly hit Tarawa, nor any of the islands in Kiribati. However, the waves it generated pummeled many of the islands, which rise no more than a few meters above the ocean. Continue reading