16 Mar 2015

Ni-Vanuatu await news from home

12:55 pm on 16 March 2015

As relief workers make their way to remote areas of Vanuatu, people from the cyclone-ravaged nation who live in New Zealand are anxiously awaiting news of their families.

Homes destroyed in Vanuatu

Homes destroyed in Vanuatu Photo: Isso Nihmei 350 Vanuatu Coordinator

Eight people are confirmed to have died across Vanuatu's 65 inhabited islands after Cyclone Pam tore through the South Pacific archipelago, but that number is almost certain to rise as rescuers contact outlying islands.

Seasonal workers in New Zealand from Vanuatu were desperately trying to get through to their families.

There are nearly 700 men employed in the South island by the firm, Seasonal Solutions.

They were working on vineyards and farms, and many have not been able to contact their families on Vanuatu's remote islands.

The co-operative's chief executive officer Greg Watson said his staff were unsure what to do, as even if the can fly to Port Vila, they can not get out to their islands.

Mr Watson said they had brief contact with their office in Vanuatu yesterday, but could not reach them this morning.

Ni-Vanuatu Leina Isno said her parents, two sisters and two-month-old niece lived in the country's second largest island, Malekula.

It was "very disheartening and unsettling" to not have contact with them, she said.

"My father has been through many storms and is usually very prepared; however, this is a category five.

"Just seeing pictures on the net and not being able to talk to people back at home is actually quite devastating."

She believed her family was okay, and had taken shelter somewhere in the village.

Ms Isno, the secretary of the Vanuatu Community in Wellington, called a meeting at the University of Victoria to bring members together.

She said there were about 50 Ni-Vanuatu living in Wellington, including children, many of whom were going through the same agonising wait as her.

Eleimaka Woodfield, who was at the meeting, said she didn't immediately hear from her family.

Her sister had been reported missing, and she feared the worst. But through her daughter, she's since learned her family was okay.

But not all was good news, as her childhood home had been completely destroyed by the cyclone, she said.

"I'm very worried about them, how they are going and the kids," she said.

"I'm vulnerable. I can't even help them from over here, but my prayers are with them."

Ms Isno said the community wanted to raise funds through Red Cross to assist with the relief, and help in any way it could.

Red Cross' International and Disaster Management manager, Andrew McKie, was at the meeting to give a status update to members.

He said the priority over the next few weeks was to send relief supplies to the country, but that the Red Cross would also look at a family-to-family assistance programme.

He said he will soon make satellite telephones available for families to communicate with anyone in New Zealand.

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