WHEN Cyclone Pam slammed into Vanuatu Ballarat dentist Dr David Goldsmith,71, was on one of his regular visits to the area, this time to attend a Ministry of Health conference. Last Monday the Ballarat Dental Group practitioner, along with 200 other Australians, was evacuated from Port Vila.
“We were flown into Brisbane by the Royal Australian Air Force,” he said.
“It wasn’t a case of I had to flee it was just the airport was very badly damaged – the power was out the radio was out , all the communications and navigation systems were out and the Australian Defense Force sent in a big plane, a C17, which is designed particularly for disasters .” Dr Goldsmith said he had arrived in Vanuatu on Wednesday and the conference was the following day. “We only got to lunchtime on Thursday and then they said ‘everybody out, it’s getting closer’, because they wanted to board up all the windows,” he said. Back in his hotel room on the third floor Dr Goldsmith kept himself busy by barricading himself in.
“The last thing I wanted to do was sit and do nothing because you are in the dark, there’s no power, no communication, there is nothing – everything has gone out hours before – and there is this incredible noise building up and you don’t know how long it will last,” he said. “I just locked myself in my room about half past three in the afternoon, it was building up then. I’d already stocked it with food because we knew we could possibly be without food for a while.”
Dr Goldsmith had planned to sit out the cyclone under a shelter he had made in his room by pushing together a wooden table, the bed and a fold down settee.
“I was going to sleep underneath that but that didn’t work out because the water came flooding in and I couldn’t stop it. The rain was coming sideways and the wind was forcing it under the door, apart from that I was trying to keep dry but I lost in the end and was in about 5-6 cm in water,” he said.
“I had the sheets, towels, curtains, everything to try and block it out but I didn’t succeed so in the end I slept on the bed – that was about 4.30am I managed to get a bit of sleep by putting in ear phones and turning the music up loud; at about 7 o’clock (morning) someone came beating on the door and asked if I was all right.” Later that morning, about 10am, Dr Goldsmith said he ventured out of his room. “It was still a strong wind, still pouring with rain but the eye had passed over and we knew it would get better from then on,” he said. “People were in shock, I saw a boat that had come straight onto land, and one was crashed against the pier, further up there a graveyard of expensive yachts all piled up on top of each other and smashed. “There were lots of people just walking around the ruins and picking up anything they could walk off with, not like pulling out TV sets and things, but going through the debris. “Big trees were toppled over but there was no soil on the roots, it was like they had been sandblasted by the rain. There were large trees snapped in half, it was amazing.”