Vanuatu President’s despair at Cyclone Pam damage

A man stands in the remains of his home in Port Vila. Picture: Getty
A man stands in the remains of his home in Port Vila. Picture: Getty
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Vanuatu’s president has dubbed the cyclone which devastated his country a “monster” as he returned home to deal with the aftermath.

The United Nations has said 24 people are confirmed dead and 3,300 were displaced by Cyclone Pam hitting the South Pacific archipelago.

The country’s president, Baldwin Lonsdale, said the cyclone had destroyed or damaged 90 per cent of the buildings in the capital, Port Vila, alone. The full extent of the devastation beyond the capital is still unknown.

Mr Lonsdale was speaking from Sendai, in north-eastern Japan, where he had been attending a UN disaster conference when the Pacific cyclone struck.

“This is a very devastating cyclone in Vanuatu. I term it as a monster,” he said. “It’s a setback for the government and for the people of Vanuatu. After all the development that has taken place, all this development has been wiped out.”

Mr Lonsdale said that because of a breakdown in communications infrastructure, even he could not reach his family. “We do not know if our families are safe or not,” he said. “As the leader of the nation, my whole heart is for the ­people, the nation.”

Officials in Vanuatu had still not made contact with outlying islands by last night and were struggling to determine the scale of devastation from the cyclone, which tore through the nation early on Saturday, bringing winds of 168 miles per hour. Bridges were down outside Port Vila, making travel by vehicle impossible even around the main island of Efate.

Paolo Malatu, co-ordinator for Vanuatu’s national disaster management office, said officials had dispatched every plane and helicopter they could to fly over the hard-hit outer islands. The office was expecting to get full reports from the flyover crews early today.

“The damage to homes and infrastructure is severe,” Mr Malatu said. “The priority at the moment is to get people water, food and shelter.”

The damaged airport in Port Vila has reopened, allowing some aid and relief flights to reach the country. Two New Zealand defence force planes were sent to retrieve about 100 stranded New Zealand tourists.

Mr Lonsdale said a wide range of items were needed, from tarpaulins and water containers to medical supplies and construction tools. People on the ground pleaded for help to arrive quickly. The city’s hospital was overwhelmed with patients, and some beds were moved outside due to fears that the building was no longer safe.

“The wards have all been evacuated because of structural damage,” surgeon Richard Leona said.

“We are badly needing this help. We need to get an urgent drug supply and food, and also set up a mobile hospital to deal with the influx of patients coming in.”