Cyclone Pam is making a direct hit in the Republic of Vanuatu in the South Pacific Ocean, including the capital city of Port Vila packing Category 5 winds. This will likely be one of the worst natural disasters in the island chain's history.
As of early Saturday morning local time (15 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Daylight Time), Cyclone Pam continued to pack maximum sustained winds estimated at 165 mph, according to the U.S. military's Joint Typhoon Warning Center. The western edge of the eye of Cyclone Pam scraped the eastern edge of Efate island, including the capital of Vanuatu, Port Vila (population 44,000), about 11 p.m. Friday night, local time.
Pam's eyewall will then likely directly hit the southern Vanuatu islands of Erromango, Tanna, and Aneityum early Saturday morning, local time. The combined population of those three islands is roughly 32,000.
The Republic of Vanuatu is an island chain about 1,200 miles northeast of Brisbane, Australia, with a total population of around 224,000.
Pam's large circulation had already lead to wave-induced coastal flooding on Vaitupu Island, Tuvalu Thursday, according to storm surge specialist, Dr. Hal Needham (thanks to Weather Underground's Dr. Jeff Masters for passing this along) and The Weather Channel hurricane specialist, Michael Lowry. This was just under 800 miles northeast of the center of Pam at the time.
Bands of rain triggering local flash flooding, dangerous waves and local coastal storm surge flooding may also affect parts of Fiji, just over 650 miles east of Port Vila.
Pam is then expected to weaken this weekend, as it encounters increasing vertical wind shear, which acts to displace the cyclone's convection farther from the center of circulation. However, Pam may still be a rather intense "post-tropical" cyclone north of New Zealand early next week, producing high surf along the coast.