Cyclone Pam turns pastor's trip to Vanuatu into rebuilding mission

An Edmonton pastor who was planning a trip with his family to teach in Vanuatu now has a new mission — to rebuild after a devastating hurricane.

Thousands left homeless, 11 confirmed dead after storm hits South Pacific

Pastor David Wood says his family considered cancelling their trip to the storm-stricken nation. Instead, they decided to help rebuild. (CBC)

Plans can change in an instant. No one knows this better than David Wood.

For weeks, the Edmonton Pentecostal pastor and his family have been preparing for a trip to the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, where he would spend weeks teaching at a local church in the capital city of Port Vila.

“That seemed like such a wonderful thing,” Wood said.

“And then, Cyclone Pam came.”

On March 14, the cyclone devastated the islands of Vanuatu. With winds of over 270 kilometres an hour, the storm left thousands homeless and killed at least 11 people. Relief agencies are still taking full stock of the damage, as downed communications on some of the nation’s 83 islands make it difficult to get a full picture of the destruction.

Wood said he and his family felt helpless as they followed the storm’s path through Vanuatu, getting updates from friends living on one of the islands.

After it became apparent how much damage the storm had done, Wood considered cancelling the trip. After some thought, however, he decided to go anyway and help rebuild.

In this photo provided by China's Xinhua News Agency, locals walk past debris in Port Vila, Vanuatu, after Cyclone Pam ripped through the tiny South Pacific archipelago, Sunday, March 15, 2015. Packing winds of 270 kilometers (168 miles) per hour, Cyclone Pam tore through Vanuatu early Saturday, leaving a trail of destruction. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Luo Xiangfeng) NO SALES (The Associated Press)
“We have so much..and just by sharing a little bit we can make a dramatic difference,” he said.

“So if everyone out there just does a little bit. We can do a lot together and change literally an entire nation.”

His family put their house in Edmonton up for sale. Next week, they will fly out to Vanuatu and help assess the damage.

“They said they will have a dry floor we can lie on, they may even have a cot for us,” Wood said.

“You go from being very excited to being sort of scared.”

Most of the 200,000 people living on the islands make fewer than $1.00 a day, he said. Most of them are subsistence farmers, relying on their personal crops to feed their families and selling the excess. But the high winds have destroyed most of the farms in the area, causing a severe food shortage.

“Imagine Canada losing two-thirds of its economy overnight. They are devastated.”

Wood said the family will spend a couple weeks in Vanuatu, gathering information for relief organizations and determining which supplies are most needed. They will return to Canada for a short time before moving to the South Pacific nation full-time in the summer to help the rebuilding efforts.

“We’ll be there with our boots on and our hammers in our hand.”


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