Cyclone Pam: Aid agencies race to help Vanuatu victims

Damage in Vanuatu caused by Cyclone Pam. 14 March 2015The extent of the destruction may not be known for days, relief agencies say

Aid agencies are stepping up efforts to reach remote communities hit by Cyclone Pam which tore through the Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu.

At least eight people are reported to have died and it is feared the toll could rise as news comes in from outlying islands.

Thousands of people spent a second night in shelters after their homes were damaged or destroyed.

Oxfam Australia said entire communities had been « blown away ».

The category five storm, with winds of up to 270km/h (170mph), veered off its expected course and struck populated areas on Friday night.

Vanuatu’s population of 267,000 is spread over 65 islands with about 47,000 people living in the capital, Port Vila.

In a statement on Sunday, Oxfam Australia said up to 90% of housing in Port Vila had reportedly been seriously damaged.

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Phil Mercer reports on Cyclone Pam which has ravaged the Pacific nation of Vanuatu. Video courtesy of YouTube/Isso Nihmei at

« This is likely to be one of the worst disasters ever seen in the Pacific, » said Oxfam’s Colin Collet van Rooyen in Port Vila.

« The scale of humanitarian need will be enormous and the proud people of Vanuatu are going to need a lot of help to rebuild their homes and their lives. »

Immediate priorities, he said, were providing shelter, clean water and sanitation.

Port Vila’s airport has been closed since the cyclone struck but officials said they hoped it might partly reopen on Sunday to allow in the first relief planes.

A UN disaster assessment team is due to arrive in Vanuatu in the coming hours.

‘One toilet between 300’

Mark Le Roux, of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, told the BBC the situation in Port Vila was « pretty grim ».

« We have 20 evacuation centres with about 2,000 people in them, some of our evacuation centres have up to 300 people sharing one toilet, » he said.

Chloe Morrison, an emergency communications officer with World Vision in Port Vila, said residents had woken to much calmer weather on Sunday.

She said communications were still down in many areas and her group had been unable to account for many of its 76 staff members on the islands.

She said it would have been a « very, very tough time » for anyone not in a secure shelter during the cyclone.

Earlier, Vanuatu’s President Baldwin Lonsdale made an impassioned plea for international help.

Cyclone Pam batters Port Vila, Vanuatu. 14 March 2015Huge waves battered the coasts of the archipelago as Cyclone Pam roared in late on Friday

Storm damage in Port Vila, Vanuatu. 14 March 2015Port Vila bore the brunt of the storm

Storm damage in Port Vila, Vanuatu. 14 March 2015Relief workers have so far not been able to move much beyond the capital Port Vila

« I am speaking to you today with a heart that is so heavy, » he said at the UN’s World Conference on Disaster Risk and Reduction in Japan.

« I stand to appeal on behalf of the government and the people to give a helping hand in this disaster. »

The extent of the devastation is unlikely to be known for several days, said Tom Skirrow, Save the Children’s Vanuatu country director.

Unconfirmed reports on Saturday said 44 people had died in Penama province in the north-east of Vanuatu, according to the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination for Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA).

Australia says it is preparing to send a crisis response team to Vanuatu if needed. New Zealand pledged NZ$1m (£500,000; $741,000), the EU promised €1m (£710,000) and the UK said it would give up to £2m in aid.

Pam had already caused major damage on other Pacific islands, including Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.

Tuvalu, a group of nine tiny islands north-east of Vanuatu, also declared a state of emergency after the cyclone caused flash floods there.

Map showing islands in the South Pacific at threat from Cyclone Pam - 13 March 2015


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