Post-cyclone recovery effort gathers pace
Following Tropical Cyclone Pam's destructive path through Vanuatu, the recovery effort is gathering pace after the country was hit by the category five cyclone - which has been labelled the country's worst ever natural disaster.
The recovery effort in Vanuatu is gathering pace after the country was hit by the category five Tropical Cyclone Pam - which has been labelled Vanuatu's worst ever natural disaster.
Relief flights have started to arrive with much needed supplies, and New Zealand and Australia have already pledged millions in aid.
But the full extent of the disaster remains unknown, as communication with the northern provinces and Tafea in the south, both of which took a direct hit from Pam has been cut off.
Jamie Tahana reports.
Authorities and residents in Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila, have spent the weekend trying to ascertain the scale of damage after cyclone Pam battered the town with winds of up to 250 kilometres an hour on Friday night.
Streets have been left littered with floodwater and debris, while trees have been uprooted and houses blown to pieces.
Power and phone lines have been cut, and water supplies contaminated.
The official death toll stands at eight, but authorities fear that will rise significantly, with some aid agencies reporting as many as 45 deaths.
The National Disaster Management Office estimates that 80 percent of the homes in Port Vila have either been destroyed or sustained significant damage, and tens of thousands of people have been left homeless.
Our correspondent, Len Garae, says the town centre is a mess, and the harbour is a scene of utter devastation with yachts, and even inter-island ferries, washed ashore by the wind and massive waves.
"It is not what it was last week. The beautiful seafront with all the swaying palm trees and flowers. Now, you can hardly recognise anything. The sea has come ashore and taken away stalls where tourists would go and buy what they wanted to take home as souvenirs. Now there is nowhere that you can see these things anymore. There is debris everywhere."
The Lands Minister Ralph Regenvanu says only one ward of the country's main Vila Central Hospital is still operational after the roof was blown off most of the other wards, and other parts flooded.
A spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Office, Mishael Lulu Garae, says emergency services are mounting a massive search and rescue operation, describing Port Vila as a scene of utter devastation.
"There is so much damage to the infrastructure, to the environment and to everything that has been touched by the cyclone. So there has been a few casualties. At the moment, we cannot confirm the exact numbers."
Len Garae says the destruction in Port Vila has sparked grave fears for the state of the less-developed northern and southern provinces, particularly Penama and Tafea, some of which took a direct hit from the cyclone.
Communication outside Port Vila has been wiped out, with authorities warning it may not be restored until Tuesday.
Vanuatu's Lands Minister, Ralph Regenvanu, says the government deployed aircraft on Sunday to try and survey the damage in those provinces.
He says the government has declared a State of Emergency in Shefa province, which includes Port Vila, and says it's likely a nationwide declaration will be made once other provinces have been assessed.
"We anticipate that we will be declaring States of Emergency for the rest of the country as soon as we have some understanding of what's been happening out there. At the moment it's just for Shefa province, but that's only because we don't know what's happening anywhere else and once we do this aerial survey we anticipate that that State of Emergency will be extended to all of the country."
Mr Regenvanu says Cyclone Pam is the biggest disaster the country's ever had, and Vanuatu can't cope on its own.
The head of the United Nations office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Sune Gudnitz, says the response to cyclone Pam could be one of the largest humanitarian missions seen in the Pacific.
He says it's still too early to gauge the full extent of the damage, but indications are that it will be significant.
"Looking at the cyclone itself, and doing the math a bit on the impact these kind of cyclones would have on a country like Vanuatu, it could easily be a bit of a historical event and definitely in Vanuatu's history, one of the largest disasters in recent times."
The start of the international aid effort was initially hampered after the runway at Vanuatu's main airport was flooded and navigation equipment damaged.
But on Sunday, the runway was cleared for military flights, and supplies started to trickle in.
Military planes carrying supplies from New Zealand, Australia and New Caledonia brought in food, shelter, medicine and other supplies, and several others are due to land today.
New Zealand and Australia have pledged just over 5 million US dollars in initial assistance for aid agencies, as well as supplies and personnel, while France has sent a Navy frigate from New Caledonia loaded with helicopters and relief supplies.
Meanwhile, the International Red Cross is urging people in Vanuatu to get to evacuation centres around the country and register so they're in line to receive help.
The head of the regional office in Suva, Aurelia Balpe, says the organisation is conducting assessments at the 26 formal evacuation centres in Vanuatu, as well as many other informal centres such as churches.
"I assume that many people are in shock and disoriented and because of the debris across the roads and possibly the widespread damage people are possibly unsure of where to seek help. The Red Cross would say please go to the Vanuatu Red Cross office, go to the evacuation centres, register yourself so that you can be accessing that relief."
The World Bank says it is looking at providing a rapid insurance payout to the Vanuatu government.
Air Vanuatu and Air New Zealand say they are resuming some flights today.
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