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Survivors on Aftermath of Vanuatu Storm

Survivors on Aftermath of Vanuatu Storm

Survivors tried to rebuild on Wednesday after a cyclone lashed out over the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu last weekend.

Video by Quynhanh Do on Publish DateMarch 18, 2015. Photo by Jeremy Piper/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

SYDNEY, Australia — Aid was slowly reaching Vanuatu’s storm-devastated outlying islands on Wednesday, including the remote southern island of Tanna, which was believed to have been crossed by the eye of Tropical Cyclone Pam as it tore across the small Pacific nation last weekend.

Relief workers reported widespread devastation, with thousands of people displaced, homes flattened and crops destroyed. “Decimation is the only word for what has happened here,” Charlie Damon, CARE International’s program manager for Vanuatu, said from the town of Lenakel on Tanna’s west coast. “You cannot see a leaf on a tree. What used to be a green island is now brown.

“All crops have been destroyed, all traditional housing is gone,” Ms. Damon said in a statement. “People are without water. This is a grave situation down here.”

The official death toll from the cyclone remained at 11, but aid workers said it was certain to rise. Officials said at least 3,300 people were homeless, but that number was also expected to climb as aid agencies and government workers reached remote islands.

Communications were still patchy, with no cellphone networks or satellite phones operating on Wednesday from Tanna. The information flowing to the capital, Port-Vila, was limited.

Oxfam’s country director for Vanuatu, Colin Collett van Rooyen, said air surveillance teams had reported “large white H’s marked out on the ground by people signaling for help” on one island, Ambrym, and people on another island, Tongoa, trying to attract attention by holding up mirrors.

“There are real concerns about the potential for disease because of the need for clean water and sanitation equipment and a real concern about the increasing lack of food,” Mr. van Rooyen said in a statement.

A small planeload of fresh water and food reached Tanna on Wednesday, and a ferry laden with more was to leave for the island from Port-Vila on Thursday, Tom Perry, an aid worker for CARE, said by telephone from the capital. CARE Australia reported that landslides and fallen trees had blocked roads on Tanna, presenting another potential hindrance to delivering aid.

The cyclone hit the string of 83 tropical islands that make up Vanuatu on Friday, passing directly over Tanna, which has a population of about 24,000, and Erromango, another southern island, lashing them with fierce winds of more than 160 miles an hour. Driving rain and high seas tore boats from moorings and are thought to have damaged Vanuatu’s coral reefs.

Osnat Lubrani, a United Nations resident coordinator based in Fiji, said from Port-Vila that not all assessment teams had returned to the capital after surveying islands to the north and south. “We are trying to get the right data so that we know what is needed,” Ms. Lubrani said. “It is not easy. The outlying islands are still cut off.

“We are hoping people on those islands found shelter during the cyclone,” she said. “I can’t say any more than we are hopeful.”

Preliminary reports from Australian air surveillance teams on Tuesday said that about 90 percent of all housing in small settlements around Tanna had been damaged. In two towns, Waesisi and Lowiteul, no buildings were left standing, the report said. In a glimmer of good news, an airstrip on Erromango appeared to be usable, despite significant damage to houses and crops around it, according to the early reports.

Australia’s defense minister, Kevin Andrews, said that a team of 20 doctors and nurses had left Darwin for Port-Vila on Wednesday and that a naval ship would sail for Vanuatu with food, water, troops, army engineers and a helicopter, joining relief forces from Britain, France and New Zealand.


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