ACT News

Canberra teen Zoe Marshall retells Vanuatu ordeal as family raise funds

Canberra teenager Zoe Marshall says running from Cyclone Pam was the "the most terrifying 20 minutes of my life".

But sheltering from a category 5 cyclone in Vanuatu and temporarily losing contact with her family in the ACT hasn't deterred the Watson 18-year-old from staying on to lend a hand. 

Volunteer Zoe Marshall with Australian Medical Assistance Team paramedics Edda Courtney and David Ferrari, who rescued ...
Volunteer Zoe Marshall with Australian Medical Assistance Team paramedics Edda Courtney and David Ferrari, who rescued her from Pentecost Island.  Photo: Andrew Meares

Speaking from Port Vila on Monday, Ms Marshall said she could not return to teaching on Pentecost Island where she volunteered before the cyclone hit.

The rest of her placement is in limbo as she waits to find out whether she can complete the remaining four months elsewhere in the country. 

Zoe with her mother Alison Abernethy, brother Angus and father Rob Marshall.
Zoe with her mother Alison Abernethy, brother Angus and father Rob Marshall. 

"My placement isn't considered viable at the moment because they've got a food crisis," she said.

"I might change placements, I'm really not sure though."

But Ms Marshall is set to return to Pentecost Island in the next week or so to briefly reunite with her adopted family and community.

Ms Marshall's family in Canberra are raising funds to deliver rice and water to the villagers.

Zoe was in Vanuatu when cyclone Pam devastated the region.
Zoe was in Vanuatu when cyclone Pam devastated the region. 

The teenager was flown from Pentecost Island to Port Vila via Santo on Friday, March 20, a week after Cyclone Pam swept through Vanuatu, devastating much of the country.

In the days after the cyclone, Ms Marshall and seven other Australian volunteers were unaccounted for, losing all contact with the outside world.

Ms Marshall had to leave Level Mission Primary School for sturdier shelter in the wake of the storm.

"We had to run down to the village during the storm, the most terrifying 20 minutes of my life," she said. 

"The vast majority of the community sheltered in ... the biggest building, the most solid building. We were in a new sleeping house made of bamboo just next to it which didn't move at all during the night."

In the days after the cyclone, Zoe and the other volunteers helped clean up, after a brief bout of illness. 

"We walked back up the hill from the village where we'd been sheltering and it was just silent," she said.

"There were trees through houses, there were trees everywhere – coconuts and branches just all over the ground."

Ms Marshall's school was also badly damaged, with some rooms destroyed and missing roofs. 

Her family aim to raise about $5000 to cover the cost of flying in water and rice as the surviving tanks run low on water and food becomes scarcer. 

Ms Marshall's mother, Alison Abernethy, said the family hoped to fly the supplies to Pentecost Island as soon as possible as the villagers awaited aid in the next fortnight. 

"Zoe wants to say goodbye but there's no point going if it's not of benefit to the villagers as well," Ms Abernethy said.

Any extra money raised will be donated to  Tambok Project, a not-for-profit organisation rebuilding schools damaged by the cyclone. 

To donate, tweet @robwoozle or email alisonabernethy8@gmail.com