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'A monster has devastated our country'

The devastation on Vanuatu after a massive cyclone hit is becoming clear.

Vanuatu Cyclone Pam AP Photo / World Vision AP Photo / World Vision / World Vision

CYCLONE-DEVASTATED VANUATU HAS declared a state of emergency as relief agencies scrambled to get help to the Pacific nation amid reports entire villages were “blown away” when a monster storm swept through.

The official death toll in the capital Port Vila stands at six this morning, although aid workers said this was likely just a fraction of the fatalities nationwide.

Communications were still down across most of the archipelago’s 80 islands, although Air Vanuatu said the airport in Port Vila had reopened with limited facilities and commercial flights were scheduled to resume on Monday.

The government said it was still trying to assess the scale of the disaster unleashed when Super Cyclone Pam, a maximum category five system, vented its fury on Friday night, with winds reaching 320 kilometres an hour.

The UN had unconfirmed reports that the cyclone had killed 44 people in one province alone and Oxfam said the destruction in Port Vila was massive, with 90% of homes damaged.

BBC News / YouTube

“This is likely to be one of the worst disasters ever seen in the Pacific, the scale of humanitarian need will be enormous… entire communities have been blown away,” said Oxfam’s Vanuatu director Colin Collet van Rooyen.

People have completely amazed me. I’ve seen people walk away from totally destroyed houses and help others.

Vanuatu’s President Baldwin Lonsdale described the storm as “a monster that has devastated our country”, his voice breaking as he described Port Vila’s devastation.

“Most of the buildings have been destroyed, many houses have been destroyed, school, health facilities have been destroyed,” he told the BBC from Japan, where he was attending a disaster management conference when the cyclone hit.

APTOPIX Vanuatu Cyclone Pam AP Photo / UNICEF Pacific, Humans of Vanuatu AP Photo / UNICEF Pacific, Humans of Vanuatu / UNICEF Pacific, Humans of Vanuatu

Aid workers described destroyed homes, uprooted trees and blocked roads following what UNICEF spokeswoman Alice Clements said was “15-30 minutes of absolute terror” as the cyclone barrelled into the island.

“People have no water, they have no power, this is a really desperate situation right now. People need help,” she told AFP.

Clements said most of the dwellings on Port Vila’s outskirts, largely tin shacks, stood no chance.

Oxfam’s executive director Helen Szoke said it was a “worse than worst case scenario”, while World Vision spokeswoman Chloe Morrison said the situation appeared grim for the outlying islands in the nation of 275,000.

“We’re seeing whole villages and houses blown away,” she said.


The Fiji-based head of delegation for the Red Cross in the Pacific told AFP she spoke with a man who flew a light aircraft Sunday into the southern island of Tanna, home to 34,000 people.

“He said all the corrugated iron structures he saw in the western part of Tanna were destroyed and all concrete buildings were without roofs,” Aurelia Balpe said.

All foliage was destroyed, there was no water and there were unconfirmed reports of two dead.

“Shelter and food are the major issues,” she added. “We are still struggling to understand the number of casualties.”

© AFP 2015

‘Half an hour of absolute terror’: Dozens feared dead as massive cyclone hits South Pacific >

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