Aid workers arriving in Vanuatu witness ‘apocalyptic’ destruction – ‘This is likely to be one of the worst disasters ever seen in the Pacific’ – ‘Effectively the whole country is flattened’Posted by Jim at Sunday, March 15, 2015
By Jethro Mullen and Steve Almasy
15 March 2015
(CNN) – The fury of Tropical Cyclone Pam, one of the most powerful storms ever to make landfall, has moved on, but the misery it left behind in the islands of Vanuatu is just starting to become apparent.
Aid workers described scenes of extensive devastation in the capital Port Vila and expressed fears of even more destruction farther afield.
The storm flattened homes, scattered trees across roads and inflicted damage on key buildings that are meant to serve as safe havens, like the hospital, schools and churches.
"It's becoming increasingly clear that we are now dealing with worse than the worst case scenario in Vanuatu," said Helen Szoke, executive director in Australia for the aid group Oxfam. "This is likely to be one of the worst disasters ever seen in the Pacific."
At least 90% of housing in Port Vila has been badly damaged, parts of the hospital are flooded and the state mortuary took a hit, Oxfam said.
At least six people have been confirmed dead. But communications with many of the 80-plus islands in the archipelago are down, so the fear is that the toll will climb as more information emerges. The confirmed deaths, reported by the National Disaster Management Office, are just from Port Vila.
For most of a 24-hour period between Friday and Saturday, the cyclone pummeled the South Pacific nation, where some 260,000 people live, many in flimsy homes built of thatch.
It is unclear how many thousands of people have been displaced by the massive storm that bore the might of a Category 5 hurricane when it made landfall.
Relief workers are raising concerns about a lack of clean water and sanitation for the many people left homeless.
Aid has started to trickle in. The Australian government said a first contingent of officials and supplies arrived in Port Vila around noon Sunday and more flights were expected to follow.
"In Port Vila, there's a lot of activity now -- people are starting to emerge," said Tom Perry of the aid group CARE International. "You can see trees that are strewn across roads being chopped down. The evacuation centers are beginning to be set up."
Perry, who arrived on one of the first Australian military flights into Port Vila, told CNN the damage there was "very significant" with trees that looked like "snapped toothpicks."
"It's like a bomb has gone through," said journalist Michael McLennan, who lives in Port Vila. "It's really quite apocalyptic."
Most buildings in the capital were destroyed or damaged, he told CNN on Sunday morning. Many roads were blocked by fallen trees or power lines. […]
"When you've got a Category 5 cyclone that essentially just sat here for 24 hours -- where do you go when you have a storm that powerful?" Perry of CARE International said. "It's very terrifying to think about what people have been through." [more]
15 March 2015 (Al Jazeera) – The first international aid workers have reached cyclone-devastated Vanuatu as the Pacific nation declared a state of emergency amid reports of massive destruction in the areas reached by aid teams.
With winds of more than 300kph, Cyclone Pam razed homes, smashed boats and washed away roads and bridges as it struck late on Friday and into Saturday.
International relief supplies began arriving in the country on Sunday as the official death toll in the capital Port Vila stood at six. The count of total confirmed deaths was at eight with 30 people injured, according to authorities.
Aid workers, who describe the situation as catastrophic, say the initial death toll was likely to be just a fraction of the fatalities nationwide.
Communications were still down across most of the archipelago's 80 islands, although the airport in Port Vila reopened with limited facilities to allow much-needed aid in. Commercial flights were scheduled to resume on Monday. […]
An official with the Australian Red Cross told the Reuters news agency that aid workers who reached the southern island of Tanna confirmed there was "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 200km south of Port Vila.
The UN had unconfirmed reports that the cyclone had killed 44 people in one province alone and Oxfam, the UK-based international organisation working mainly on poverty issues, said 90 percent of homes in Poer Villa 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.
Vanuatu Red Cross President Hannington Alatoa said: "Effectively the whole country is flattened." [more]