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Devastation and death after Cyclone Pam

March 16, 2015

Officials in Vanuatu are struggling to assess the scale of devastation after Cyclone Pam slammed into the remote archipelago over the weekend. Aid agencies warn it could take days to distribute urgently needed supplies.

Hilfsgüter Vanuatu Zerstörung nach Zyklon Pam
Image: Getty Images/AFP/F.Payet

Authorities on Monday continued efforts to establish contact with islands hit by Cyclone Pam, which flattened buildings, smashed boats and washed away bridges with winds of up to 300 kilometers per hour (180 mph) over the weekend.

The category 5 typhoon, which reportedly raised sea levels 8 meters (25.5 feet), damaged up to 75 percent of the homes in the capital Port Vila, leaving more than 10,000 people temporarily homeless in the country of 260,000.

"This is a very devastating cyclone in Vanuatu," President Baldwin Lonsdale told the Associated Press news agency on Monday, though he himself has only received news from Port Vila, located about 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) northeast of the Australian city of Brisbane. "I term it as a monster, a monster." Lonsdale, like UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said that the effects of climate change had made the storm even more disastrous.

The death toll will likely rise as searchers pick through outlying islands. To date, the United Nations has unconfirmed reports of 44 deaths in a single province. The government's official death toll stands at eight.

‘For the people'

Workers on the ground have said they have no way to distribute desperately needed supplies across the more than 80 islands of the archipelago, formerly known as New Hebrides. They warned that it would take days to reach remote villages flattened by the monster storm.

"My heart is for the people," Lonsdale told AP on Monday, speaking in Japan, where he had gone for a conference before the disaster struck. "Everyone has that same feeling. We don't know what has happened to our families. Because there is a breakdown in communications we cannot reach our families. We do not know if our families are safe or not."

Perched on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin, Vanuatu suffers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcano eruptions, in addition to rising seas. It is the most threatened of 111 countries on the Commonwealth Vulnerability Index.

On Monday, Save the Children's Vanuatu director, Tom Skirrow, said the logistical challenges were even worse than those after Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in November 2013, killing more than 6,000 people and ravaging an area as large as Portugal.

"The numbers are smaller but the percentage of the population that's been affected is much bigger," Skirrow told the news agency AFP.

mkg/cmk (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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