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VANUATU: State of emergency declared, 'monster' cyclone Pam aid effort kicks in


Devastation in Port Vila yesterday. Image: Weather.com

Monday, March 16, 2015

Item: 9159

PORT VILA (SBS/Pacific Media Watch): Relief supplies have begun arriving in cyclone-devastated Vanuatu as the Pacific nation declared a partial state of emergency amid reports that entire villages were "blown away" when a monster storm swept through at the weekend.

Late on Sunday the official death toll in the capital Port Vila stood at eight, although aid workers said this was likely just a fraction of the fatalities nationwide.

Communications were down across most of the archipelago's 80 islands, although the airport in Port Vila reopened with limited facilities for military aircraft, allowing much-needed aid to arrive.

Two Australian Air Force planes landed with supplies of food, shelter, and medicine while a New Zealand military aircraft also arrived loaded with eight tonnes of tarpaulins, water containers, chainsaw packs, generators and water.

Commercial flights were scheduled to resume today.

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 320km/h an hour.

The UN had unconfirmed reports the cyclone had killed 44 people in one province alone and Oxfam said the destruction in Port Vila was massive, with 90 percent of homes damaged.

'Humanitarian need enormous'
"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.

Pictures from the city showed streets littered with debris, cars crushed by trees, buildings blown to pieces and yachts washed inland.

Vanuatu police commissioner Colonel Job Esau said some areas of the capital - such as shopping districts and the waterfront - had been put off limits in a bid to stop looting as darkness approached.

"Facilities, installations, private sectors, and also from the yachts that have been washed away by the cyclone," he told Radio New Zealand.

"Those are the only areas we have been targeting at the moment, and also some other very affected locations in and around Port Vila."

Earlier story with video

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