Cyclone Pam: Eight confirmed dead but more expected
AT LEAST eight people are confirmed dead in Vanuatu after a massive cyclone tore through the tiny South Pacific archipelago, and the death toll is likely to rise once communications are restored with outlying islands.
Packing winds of 320km/h, Cyclone Pam tore through Vanuatu, leaving a trail of destruction and unconfirmed reports of dozens of deaths.
Chloe Morrison, a World Vision emergency communications officer in Port Vila, said officials from Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office confirmed to her agency that at least eight people in and around the capital, Port Vila, had died during the cyclone.
Know any Australians in the Pacific Islands affected by Cyclone Pam? Comment below.
Officials have yet to assess the damage in many of the hard-hit outer islands because communications remain down.
Ms Morrison said she had heard reports of entire villages being destroyed in more remote areas. "We've seen villages that have just literally been blown away."
Low-lying Tuvalu, north east of Vanuatu, has declared a state of emergency. The cyclone caused flash floods there. Crops and houses have been washed away. In the Soloman Islands houses, trees and crops were flattened after the storm hit on Thursday. Residents took shelter in their homes. Widespread damage has been reported but so far no loss of life.
In Kiribati high tides, strong winds and rain damaged infrastructure across the island, including a vital causeway. The road linking southern Tarawa to the island of Betio has been shut . Work is continuing to repair it. There was also widespread flooding. Seawalls had collapsed and the tides had swept through homes, an official told Radio New Zealand.
Damage in Fiji and Rarotonga while there have been no reports of Cyclone Pam in Samoa as yet. Those in the Kermadecs, including Department of Conservation staff on Raoul Island, have been warned the storm could hit strongly as it towards New Zealand today.
A westward change of course put populated areas directly in the path of Pam. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said there were unconfirmed reports of an additional 44 deaths in Vanuatu's northeastern islands after Pam moved off its expected track.
Watch: The storm surge in Port Vila's Seafront area
Labour's Pacific Island affairs spokesman Su'a William Sio said aid was needed in the cyclone-ravaged nations "sooner rather than later", and urged the Government to do more to help recovery efforts.
"Not only have families lost their homes and power supplies, but roads and other infrastructure have been badly damaged," he said.
"It has been estimated around 80 per cent of homes in Port Vila have been destroyed. That is almost unfathomable." Certainly the initial $1 million will be helpful, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to what is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars of damage."
Unicef aid worker Alice Clements said it was "impossible" at this stage to gauge exactly how many had been injured or killed in the storm.
"We simply don't have telecommunications with other parts of the country and the entire country doesn't have power. The true extent of this thing is going to become much clearer over time. We know it's serious we just don't know how serious."
Vanuatu has a population of 267,000 spread over 65 islands. About 47,000 people live in the capital.
Ms Clements said the destruction from the storm was "devastating". "I keep trying to think about just how lucky I was in the structure I was in, as we go out of town we are going to see flimsier and flimsier structures."It's where I fear the worst."
After reports that six of New Zealanders working for Volunteer Service Abroad were unaccounted for, the agency contacted the Herald this morning to say all were now safe.
"All our volunteers and staff in Port Vila and Santo are now confirmed safe (19 of 23 people total). We also have volunteers on the islands of Pentecost, Malekula and Tanna, where communications are still down," a spokesman said.
Ms Morrison said communications had been so problematic that her aid group hasn't yet been able to account for many of its own 76 staff on the islands and authorities have been unable to assess the extent of the damage.
"I can say that for anybody who wasn't in a secure shelter last night, it would have been a very, very tough time for them," she said.
Ms Morrison said authorities did a good job on Friday moving thousands of people in Port Vila into 23 evacuation centers. With the winds and rain easing Saturday, many people stepped out only to find that their homes were missing a roof or had disappeared, and were forced to return to the shelters.
Teetering trees and downed power lines in Port Vila have made many areas hazardous, Ms Morrison said, adding that she had heard reports of entire villages being destroyed in more remote areas.
"It's still really quite dangerous outside. Most people are still hunkering down," she said.
Unicef estimated that 54,000 children were among those affected by the cyclone, with organisation's New Zealand executive director describing the destruction as "potentially one of the worst in Pacific history".
Vivien Maidaborn, said: "The sheer force of the storm, combined with communities just not set up to withstand it could have devastating results for thousands across the region."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the impact and scope of the disaster caused by the cyclone wasn't yet clear, but he feared the damage and destruction could be widespread.