The impact from a devastating tropical storm will be “the very, very, very worst” in isolated outer islands but damage was still being assessed, Vanuatu’s president says.
President Baldwin Lonsdale said most houses in the capital Port Vila had been damaged or destroyed by Cyclone Pam, a category 5 storm.
“People are finding shelter where they can live for the night,” he told Reuters in Sendai, Japan, where he was attending a UN disaster recovery conference.
“The state of damage is still being assessed, we do not know exactly the extent of the damage…The number of casualties I do hope will be minor.”
At least ten people have been confirmed dead but aid workers expect that number to rise sharply as more information becomes available.
With winds of more than 300 kph (185 mph), Cyclone Pam razed homes, smashed boats and washed away roads and bridges as it struck late on Friday and into Saturday. Aid workers described the situation as catastrophic.
In a statement on Sunday, Oxfam Australia said up to 90 per cent of housing in Port Vila had reportedly been seriously damaged.
Entire communities have been blown away. Colin Collet van Rooyen
“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.”
Aid workers were particularly worried about the southern island of Tanna. An official with the Australian Red Cross said an aircraft had managed to land there and confirmed “widespread destruction”.
“Virtually every building that is not concrete has been flattened,” said the official, adding two deaths had been confirmed on the island which has a population of about 29,000 and is about 200 km (125 miles) south of the capital, Port Vila.
— Australian Red Cross (@RedCrossAU) March 15, 2015
Aid officials said the storm was comparable in strength to Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in 2013 and killed more than 6,000 people, and looked set to be one of the worst natural disasters the Pacific region has ever experienced.
Aid flights, including a New Zealand military Hercules aircraft carrying eight tonnes of supplies and an initial team, landed on Sunday as Port Vila’s airport partially reopened.
Australia sent two military aircraft including one with medical experts, search and rescue teams and emergency supplies, while a UN team was also preparing to go in with members drawn from as far away as Europe.
The UK is to provide up to £2m in support, International Development Secretary Justine Greening announced on Saturday, who said the relief would go toward temporary shelters, and protect vulnerable people.
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) March 14, 2015
Late on Sunday, Pam had weakened as it moved to the southeast, and New Zealand’s northern regions were starting to feel its effects. Authorities there were warning the public to prepare for damaging winds, heavy rain and big seas.
For more information about relief efforts in Vanuatu visit www.unicef.org.uk/cyclone