SUVA, Fiji: Cyclone-devastated Vanuatu declared a state of emergency Sunday as relief agencies scrambled to get help to the remote Pacific nation amid reports entire villages were “blown away” when a monster storm swept through.
The official death toll in the capital Port Vila stood at six on Sunday, although aid workers said this was likely just a fraction of the fatalities nationwide, with communications still down across most of the archipelago’s 80 islands.
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 kilometers (200 miles) an hour.
The UN had unconfirmed reports that Super Cyclone Pam had killed 44 people in one province alone and Oxfam said the destruction in Port Vila was massive, with 90 percent of homes damaged.
“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,” he added. “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.
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.
“People tried to tie down their roofs, they put bricks on them, but it’s total destruction, they’ve been absolutely flattened,” she said. AFP
Meanwhile, nearly half the population of Tuvalu have been severely affected by the devastation wrought by Cyclone Pam, Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga said Sunday, with other Pacific island nations also taking a hit.
While the focus has been on devastation in neighbouring Vanuatu, Tuvalu—a grouping of nine coral atolls with a population of less than 11,000—is also struggling to cope, he told Radio New Zealand International.
“Forty five percent of the population of Tuvalu, most of whom are on the outer islands, have been affected, badly, severely affected,” he said of the island chain some 1,550 kilometers (960 miles) northeast of Vanuatu.