MITCH Cooper was rocked when he turned on the television in his Melbourne hotel room on Saturday and saw the devastation that Tropical Cyclone Pam had caused in his homeland, Vanuatu.
The Jets midfielder was born in Port Vila and lived in the Pacific island nation until he was eight.
His elderly grandparents and other family members remain on the archipelago and his mother, Annie, had been in Port Vila last week on business.
‘‘I was aware that a cyclone was forming, but not a category five,’’ Cooper told the Herald.
‘‘Growing up, there was a lot of storms and cyclone action, but nothing that serious.
‘‘The day of the Melbourne City game I turned on the news and saw it had hit hard.
‘‘My first concern was mum. I didn’t know at the time she was on her way home. She had to come home a day early because no flights were allowed after a certain time.
‘‘It wasn’t until after the game when my brother James rang and said she had made it home. It was good to get that call.’’
Cooper’s grandparents live on the island of Santo, 300km north of Port Vila and about 500km from the southern island of Tanna, which took the full force of the storm.
Reports estimate that about 70per cent of Vanuatu’s population of 250,000 have been displaced and many parts of the island chain remain cut off from electricity and phone lines.
‘‘Where my grandparents live is fairly remote,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘We haven’t been in contact with them yet.
‘‘There is not much infrastructure up there.
‘‘I’m comfortable that they will be OK. They are used to these things. They cop tropical storms all the time.
‘‘They are quite elderly, but there is other family around them. Hopefully it is matter of waiting for the phone lines to be fixed.’’
Cooper’s father, Bob, is English and his mum is from Vanuatu.
He attended the Port Vila International School before moving to New Zealand for five years and then on to Australia when he was 13.
Now 20, his first memories of football were forged playing pick-up games on local ovals with scant resources.
‘‘There wasn’t any clubs,’’ he said. ‘‘My dad played with a lot of other Aussies and New Zealanders and a few islanders on Friday afternoons. It was a casual thing.
‘‘On Saturday all the kids would rock up.
‘‘Dad owned a sports store at the time. My brother and I had the full-on Lotto gear.
‘‘Some kids had nothing.
‘‘I always knew how lucky I was to have boots and would give gear away.’’
Cooper still has a strong connection and affection for his country of birth.
He has a tattoo of a boar’s tusk, the symbol of prosperity worn as a pendant on the islands, on the left side of his chest and had already planned a trip to Vanuatu at the end of the A-League season.
‘‘Growing up I always wanted to play for Vanuatu,’’ he said. ‘‘It has always been in my heart. I was born and bred there, it’s in my blood. Vanuatu needs everyone to reach out to them at the moment.
‘‘I am going to go back to see family in the off-season. A lot of them had their homes and businesses destroyed.
‘‘They rely heavily on tourism there. It is going to take a long time to rebuild. There will be a lot of things to clean up. I want to do what I can.
‘‘Mum has a freight company and transfers a lot of stuff to the islands. She is sending stuff for free from people who are donating things.’’
Cooper, in conjunction with the Jets, is looking at ways the club can help with the aid.
‘‘Australians are very charitable,’’ he said. ‘‘I just want to do what I can.’’