Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has announced a $5 million assistance package to provide aid to Vanuatu, after the South Pacific archipelago took a direct hit from Tropical Cyclone Pam.
Vanuatu’s government has declared a state of emergency for Shefa province, which takes in the country’s capital Port Vila, as relief workers assess the damage left behind by Cyclone Pam.
Much-needed aid and relief supplies has started arriving in Vanuatu, after the cyclone tore through the South Pacific archipelago packing winds of up to 270km/h, killing at least 10 people across the country’s 65 inhabited islands, according to a senior aid official.
With communications down and many areas still inaccessible, relief workers fear the death toll will be much higher.
Vanuatu lands minister Ralph Regenvanu said he expected other provinces would be declared to be in a state of emergency once authorities had a better picture of the situation.
“A state of emergency has been declared for Shefa province,” he said.
“We have no communications with the rest of the country. As soon as we do assessments in other places, it looks like we will be declaring other provinces as well.”
Mr Regenvanu said a curfew was also going to be declared due to “low-level looting”.
World Vision spokeswoman Chloe Morrison, who was in Port Vila, said some villages had been “literally picked up and blown away”.
“Power lines are hanging, buildings are flattened so it is just a devastating sight,” she said.
But as relief workers fan out to cover areas of the north and south flattened by the worst cyclone to hit the area in decades, they expect an even grimmer picture to emerge.
“Aid is on the way, but these critical hours immediately after the emergency when people may have survived, but may not have anything to survive on, that’s (when) we really need to get out there,” United Nations relief agency head Sune Gudnitz said.
Islands in the north and south took a direct hit from the storm and it is in these areas where it is feared the death toll will be much higher.
“There’s not a lot of information (about) the islands in the north and the south, particularly in the south, the southern islands of Vanuatu where we have grave concerns for people’s welfare,” Care International’s Vanuatu program director Inga Mephum said.
The outer islands which generally do not have good healthcare facilities will be in particular need of assistance, Care International’s Vanuatu program manager Charlie Damon said.
“Over the coming days we will get an idea around the injuries and we can gauge what the issues will be on the outer islands,” Ms Damon said.
Australia, NZ send help
Much-needed aid and relief supplies has started arriving in Vanuatu after Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through the Pacific nation.
Ms Bishop said on Sunday morning that Australia would provide $5 million to NGO’s provision aid, particularly to the Red Cross and UN agencies.
Later on Sunday, two Australian military aircraft, including one with medical experts, search and rescue teams and emergency supplies, touched down in the capital, while a UN team was also preparing to go in with members drawn from as far away as Europe.
A New Zealand Hercules aircraft carrying eight tonnes of supplies and an initial team also landed on Sunday at Port Vila’s airport, which has been partially reopened.
“We will be sending military transport planes, and (begin) the deployment of personnel — medical, humanitarian and consular, natural disaster experts and supplies,” Ms Bishop said.
“We will also be deploying humanitarian suppliers to provide support for up to 5,000 people in the form of water, sanitation and shelter.
“We are also deploying a team from Australia of medical experts and urban search and rescue personnel.”
Aid agencies have estimated that at least 10,000 people have been left homeless, but authorities are struggling to gauge the extent of the damage across the country as communications remain down.
Ms Bishop said the government was doing all it could to confirm the well-being of all Australians living in Vanuatu.