Cyclone Pam: State of emergency declared in Vanuatu as first aid workers to reach the country describe scenes of devastation

The president, Baldwin Lonsdale, spoke of the destruction to his country

Ben Tufft
Sunday 15 March 2015 10:11
A woman carrying a baby stands with children outside homes damaged by Cyclone Pam, on a street surrounded by debris in Port Vila
A woman carrying a baby stands with children outside homes damaged by Cyclone Pam, on a street surrounded by debris in Port Vila

The first aid workers to arrive in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam hit, described the situation as catastrophic and confirmed there was "widespread destruction" across the country.

Earlier the president described how "most" of the population been made homeless by the cyclone, which hit the South Pacific archipelago nation on Saturday.

Winds of 185mph tore through the tiny country, of just 267,000 people, leaving unconfirmed reports of dozens dead.

In the capital, Port Vila, most of the buildings are said to have been destroyed and two people have been confirmed dead, Paolo Malatu, coordinator for the National Disaster Management Office said. Another 30 are thought to be injured.

Earlier, Chloe Morrison, a World Vision emergency communications officer, said that Vanuatu’s disaster response office told her that at least eight people had died.

There have been reports of entire villages being destroyed in more remote parts of the country.

An Australian Red Cross official said: "Virtually every building that is not concrete has been flattened."

Aid has begun to arrive in the country from neighbours Australia and New Zealand on air force planes. One Hercules aircraft from New Zealand landed in the partially reopened Port Vila airport on Sunday carrying eight tonnes of supplies.

Australia, which has promised A$5 million in aid, has sent medical experts, emergency supplies and a search and rescue team.

The UK and France, which jointly ruled Vanuatu until independence in 1980, along with the EU, have pledged aid to the devastated country, comprised of 65 islands.

People cleared up debris at their homes near Port Vila

The authorities have been hindered in their response due to a communications blackout and do not fully know the extent of the damage or loss of life on the outer islands.

“We haven't been able to communicate outside Port Vila," Mr Malatu 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 plan to head to the outlying islands in helicopters and light aircraft on Monday to assess the damage.

Residents awoke to much calmer weather on Sunday after many took refuge in emergency shelters for a second straight night.

Debris is scattered along the coast in Port Vila

Many people who have ventured out from 23 emergency shelters around Port Vila have found their homes damaged or blown away altogether, Ms Morrison said.

She said communications have been so problematic that her aid group has not yet been able to account for the majority of its 76 staff members in the country.

For anybody who wasn't in a secure shelter during the cyclone “it would have been a very, very tough time for them,” she said.

Additional reporting by AP, Reuters

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