UNICEF Australia tweets about Cyclone Pam hitting Vanuatu, 13 March 2015. '#CyclonePam still tearing through #Vanuatu. 'Much bigger than expected,' says our colleague in Port Vila. Initial reports of devastation'. Graphic: UNICEF Australia / Twitter

13 March 2015 (CNN) – Relief workers reported "unbelievable destruction" after Tropical Cyclone Pam smashed the capital of Vanuatu, the Australian Red Cross said Saturday.

The Australian Red Cross said via Twitter that "humanitarian needs will be enormous. Many people have lost their homes. Shelter, food and water (are) urgent priorities" in Port Vila.

Meteorologists said the storm has weakened some, but it was still pounding the islands after hours of fierce winds and torrential rain.

"#CyclonePam still tearing through #Vanuatu. 'Much bigger than expected,' says our colleague in Port Vila. Initial reports of devastation," the Australian branch of UNICEF said on Twitter earlier.

Pam, one of the strongest storms seen in the South Pacific in years, earlier made a direct hit on the capital, raising fears of mass destruction.

In its 8 a.m. Saturday update, the Vanuatu Meteorological Services warned of "very destructive hurricane force winds" of 155 mph (250 kilometers per hour) in Shefa and Tafea provinces, with several others facing "very rough to phenomenal seas with heavy swells."

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, said the cyclone had weakened from the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane to a Category 4. It has dumped more than 9 inches of rain on the capital in a 36-hour period and has wind gusts of up to 190 mph (305 kph). […]

Chloe Morrison, an emergency communications director for the humanitarian organization World Vision, told CNN that she could see some light between her boarded-up windows but it was still hard to see the totality of the destruction outside the house where she and seven others huddled in a back room during the storm.

"Seven hours hunkered down and it's still not safe to go outside," she said. "The winds are still really howling. We're really lucky to be in a concrete house."

Part of the tin roof twisted off the house and landed by one of the windows, she said. She also noted that two trees outside didn't get uprooted, but they had not one bit of fruit or any leaves remaining.

Despite the "quite terrifying ordeal," Morrison said, their house didn't have any damage.

Through the night, the wind and torrential rain made it sound like an angry ocean was just outside their doors, she said. […]

“The wind outside is terrifying,” Michael Wolfe, World Vision's national director in Vanuatu, told that organization. "I can't imagine what it's like for families out there who weren't able to find safe shelter before the storm." [more]

'Unbelievable destruction' reported in Tropical Cyclone Pam's wake



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