WHITE LAKE (WWJ) – A local mother is worried about her son, who’s stranded on an island half a world away — in the path of a dangerous cyclone.

Deborah Perna said her 23-year-old son, Tim Ward, is a Michigan Tech grad student who is doing work with about 60 other Peace Corps members on Vanuatu, a chain of islands off the Australian coast. Ward is in an area directly in the path of Cyclone Pam, expected to bring hurricane force winds, torrential rain, widespread damage and potential casualties.

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Perna said her son and the others were expecting to leave the island Tuesday night, but were stranded because military planes scheduled to fly them out did not go through the proper channels.

“I spoke to him at 11 o’clock last night and they had just returned to their hotel after being told they could not board the plane. It’s quite likely that the hurricane will still be there on Friday, so they’re expected a day-and-a-half or so of being in the eye of the hurricane,” Perna told WWJ’s Scott Ryan.

Perna says staying in touch with her son has been a challenge but she’s been following Ward’s online blog, which he’s updating as much as possible.

“He frequently has a terrible time trying to get a signal, even trying to call home. He sometimes has to walk 400 feet into a field and stand there in order to get a signal to call home and then he’ll call for a few minutes at a time and lose his signal,” she said.

On his blog, Ward said the island is pretty much expecting for the worse. Forecasters say Cyclone Pam could be a category five when the eye makes landfall Wednesday.

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“Most of the locals do not live in or have access to adequate shelter for this level of cyclone. The government of Vanuatu has decided to do absolutely nothing about this because they are grossly unprepared,” Ward wrote, assuring that he and the other Peace Corps members were safe.

“We are in the most secure hotel in Vila. It is an extremely strong structure that will hold just fine. I am quite certain WE will all pull through this in the end. It will just be scary throughout. That is the best we can hope for at this point. It is too late to get out of here in any way. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it is. All we can do now is hope for the best.”

A spokesperson for Michigan Tech said the school is now keeping an eye on the situation.

“The health, safety and security of volunteers are Peace Corps’ top priorities. All Volunteers in Vanuatu are safe and accounted for and remain consolidated in a secure location. Post is monitoring the situation closely in collaboration with Peace Corps headquarters in Washington and the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby,” according to a Peace Corps spokesperson.

“Each Peace Corps program has an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) specific to that country and developed in cooperation with Peace Corps Washington and the local U.S. Embassy. Volunteers are thoroughly trained in their roles and responsibilities, and posts are prepared to respond to situations like this one.”

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