OFFICIALS struggled yesterday to determine the scale of the devastation wrought by a cyclone that tore through the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. The death toll stands at eight, but is expected to rise once communications are restored with outlying islands.
Cyclone Pam tore through Vanuatu early on Saturday morning with winds measuring up to 168 miles per hour, and left a trail of destruction.
Chloe Morrison, a World Vision emergency communications officer, said that her agency had heard reports of entire villages being destroyed in more remote areas. The agency has yet to contact all its staff on outlying islands.
Vanuatu’s government has declared a state of emergency, and Australia and New Zealand have sent in relief supplies after a plea by the country’s president, Baldwin Lonsdale.
Port Vila’s airport was damaged by the storm and closed for commercial flights, but the first delivery of supplies arrived yesterday from the Red Cross.
With power and phone lines and down, officials in the capital still have no way of knowing what the scope of the damage is on the outer islands, or how many people have been killed.
“We haven’t been able to communicate outside Port Vila,” Paolo Malatu, co-ordinator for the country’s National Disaster Management Office, said. “At this point, the damage is severe and we haven’t had figures of how many houses destroyed … It’s really bad, it’s really bad.”
Officials are planning to head to the outer islands today to get a better sense of the destruction, Mr Malatu added.
Isso Nihmei, Vanuatu co-ordinator for the environmental and crisis response group 350, said structural damage across Port Vila was extensive, with the majority of homes severely damaged or destroyed.
Hannington Alatoa, head of the Vanuatu Red Cross Society, said at least half of the population – about 130,000 people – has been affected.
Speaking from Sendai, Japan, where he and other Vanuatu officials were attending a United Nations conference on disaster risk reduction, Mr Alatoa said: “No trees, no foliage, no iron structures standing on the western part of Tanna [one of Vanuatu’s southern islands] … Trees blocked the roads. People are in great need of water.”
Many people who have ventured out from the emergency shelters around Port Vila have found their homes damaged or blown away altogether.
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