Earthbag Women’s Centre in Vanuatu Withstands Category 5 Cyclone

The earthbag Erakor Women’s Center withstood Cyclone Pam and helped local families survive.
The earthbag Erakor Women’s Center withstood Cyclone Pam and helped local families survive.

Cyclone Pam, one of the worst cyclones ever recorded in the Pacific Ocean, blasted the island chain of Vanuatu with category 5 winds up to 185 miles per hour and 26 foot storm surge. The women’s earthbag center near Port Vila and the earthbag water tank made it through the storm with minimal damage, despite the widespread destruction in the region. As much as three-quarters of the houses in Port Vila were either destroyed or severely damaged. The Wall Street Journal said up to one third of the population may be homeless. Fortunately, some families on Erakor Road were able to safely shelter in the women’s center earthbag roundhouse as the storm passed through. Project manager Liz Sherborne said “the trees are all gone. It stands alone on the hill. Paint hardly scratched. Lost three sheets of tin.” This news impressed Bundaberg Bag Company enough to donate 1,000 meters of polypropylene tubing to build more earthbag structures and water tanks. According to Liz, “now everybody wants one.”

From News Mail:
“Among the small percentage of structures left standing in Vanuatu following the devastation of Cyclone Pam are those made from bags.

The Bundaberg Bag Company has donated 1000m of woven polypropylene tubing to enable volunteers to build more structures using the earthbag process. The bags are filled with dirt before being rendered over with cement and are both cyclone proof and earthquake resistant.

Sydney woman Liz Sherborne is preparing to take the material to Vanuatu, her 10th trip in three years, to help build these structures. “In the wake of cyclone Pam I will be flying over to Port Vila by myself with 1000 metres of Bundaberg Bag tubing,” she said. “This is enough to build five water tanks or four small shelters.”

More at the source: News Mail
Note: This type of experiential evidence accumulated over time is what will eventually push earthbag building into code acceptance and more mainstream use. Same thing happened to strawbale building and now it’s code approved. It just takes years and tons of money to prove the obvious. We’ll soon see how many code approved structures were leveled in Vanuatu. And thank goodness for the earthbag water tank. There’s a severe shortage of drinking water and some locals are resorting to drinking sea water. Many of the plastic water tanks were destroyed or tipped over. Local stores are no doubt sold out of bottled water.

For new readers, please check out the links on the right side of the page. We have thousands of pages of free information that show and explain everything in detail. There’s even a special site for building in developing regions and disaster regions called Earthbag

Earthbag Water Tank Instructable
Previous report on the earthbag women’s center

13 thoughts on “Earthbag Women’s Centre in Vanuatu Withstands Category 5 Cyclone”

  1. Hi
    I just returned from a 2 week trip with Volunteer Vanuatu. A fantastic organisation that does many projects including water tanks and rebuilding. I didn’t hear them talk about earthbags which makes me think perhaps they haven’t heard about you!! is their email, perhaps you could send them an email?
    Thanks :)

  2. What a wonderful story amidst so many sad one with Cyclone Pam. There are a group of us that have lived in Vanuatu that are headed that way this summer to help some of the villages on Tanna. We would love to get in touch with Liz Sherborne or anyone who has done the earth bag building so that we can gather valuable information from someone who has already built with this method in Vanuatu. Any information you could give us for sourcing materials would be so appreciated to. My email is Thank you so much.

  3. Owen was so generous with plan , process and sharing and brainstorming !
    Congratulations !
    It worked
    With Liz and Alex ‘a POWER AND DETERMINATION

    • Now let’s hope some NGOs step up and run with the idea. What are they waiting for? The proof is overwhelming. Our websites explain everything in detail. Free YouTube clips show every step. I even have a DVD and ebook if you don’t want to spend hours and hours reading our websites.

  4. I reread the original stories on the women’s group building the round houses on Vanuatu the night Cyclone Pam hit the area. I have been waiting for this story, that tells a wide audience of the viability of earthbag buildings in a super storm.

    I agree with the article that the wide exposure of the strength of earthbag construction will lead to more of these buildings. Wider acceptance will surely lead to refinements of building techniques that will benefit everyone interested in building their own.

    • I imagine the communication systems in Vanuatu were damaged, plus it must be hard to move about. Only some text messages have been sent so far.

      In general, people are very slow to make changes (ex: switch from familiar concrete to earthbags). Year after year we post hundreds of stories about how strong earthbag houses are and how they’re simple to build. It’s like trying to move a mountain with a shovel. Bit by bit we’re making progress though. Sometimes a story like this can bring significant change. We know earthbag building works great. Now we need some medium size and big players to start building this way.

  5. The three pieces of roofing probably wouldn’t have blown off if the storm shutters and new doors were finished. It’s thick metal roofing, not the usual thin stuff.

  6. Big thumbs up for Bundaberg Bags here. I built a garden bed with their tubes, did not cover it / plaster it for a year (do not do this), but still absolutely no sun damage. Their UV protection is top notch. Again – don’t do this, but you probably don’t need to be obsessive about sun protection in the build stage with their tubes.

    • Amazing. That’s good to know. Thanks for the report. Most bags suddenly fail after 2-3 months or even less. One week they look fine. The next week they’re disintegrating.

      Bundaberg Bag needs a distributor in Port Vila. I predict there will be a major NGO rebuilding effort like in Haiti.

  7. Bundaberg Bag Company also supplied the narrow tubing for the earthbag water tank. I hope NGOs and government agencies read this and buy lots of tubing for building new water tanks throughout Vanuatu. The water tank instructable linked above has all the details. As I’ve been saying for months, earthbag water tanks are one if not the best water tank solutions for Vanuatu and other remote islands. Plastic tanks are too bulky and have high shipping costs. Rolls of tubing in comparison are much more compact.


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