Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has announced the Federal Government will send an additional urban search and rescue team to Vanuatu in response to the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Pam.
Ms Bishop said a team of 54 personnel will arrive in Port Vila on Tuesday to assist in the clean-up and repair work for the capital’s hospital.
The official death toll from the cyclone has been revised by the United Nations to 11 people from an earlier figure of 24.
But many officials anticipate the number will rise once they are able reach the outer islands of the scattered archipelago to inspect the damage there.
Australian personnel carried out aerial reconnaissance flights over Vanuatu on Monday to assess the damage across the Pacific island nation, particularly in the southern islands where the eye of the cyclone was closest.
“In response to the aerial reconnaissance, we know that we need more medical and urban search and rescue teams,” Ms Bishop told reporters in Canberra.
“The ADF (Australian Defence Force) have been carrying out further assessments over the last 36 hours which have shown that the Port Vila hospital has been significantly damaged.
“We believe that establishing this critical infrastructure after the cyclone is essential to giving healthcare to those injured as a result of the cyclone.”
She said the team would also provide assistance to Vanuatu’s government to “assess damage and potential recovery needs of other major infrastructure in Port Vila”.
Health minister Sussan Ley said protecting the health of the population following the disaster was a critical part of the response and recovery effort.
She said 20 Australian medical staff – including doctors, nurses, and paramedics – would leave for Vanuatu on Wednesday.
“The team will work within the new wing of the existing hospital and with local staff to provide general practice and emergency care shifts,” Ms Ley said.
A temporary mobile ward will be set up within the Port Vila hospital complex, bringing the total number of Australian health and medical personnel in Port Vila to 27.
The Opposition welcomed the Government’s announcement of its additional contribution towards relief efforts in Vanuatu.
“Now we are starting to see the extent of the devastation, it is clear more help is needed,” Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek said in a statement.
“We urge the Abbott government to do more to help Vanuatu, immediately. Labor believes serious consideration should be given to deploying our expert Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT).”
“Vanuatu is our close neighbour and good friend. We must do all we can in support.”
Ms Bishop’s announcement of further support is in addition to a $5 million assistance package to help Australian NGOs and UN agencies working in Vanuatu.
Vanuatu’s outer islands ‘decimated’: aid agencies
A team of aid groups say there is widespread destruction on one of Vanuatu’s main outer islands, Tanna which is 200 kilometres south of the capital Port Vila.
The team was among the first to make an initial assessment of damage outside the main island of Efate, caused by Cyclone Pam over the weekend.
Reports from aid groups said the main town on the island of Erromango, north of Tanna, had suffered similar destruction.
The Australian Red Cross said it had reports of “total devastation” on the island with a population of 29,000, with most homes destroyed.
Aid agencies and rescue teams from Australia and New Zealand have flown over the islands, but have so far been unable to land because of flooding.
The helicopters will be able to land on higher ground, giving rescue workers a clearer picture of the overall impact.
“The impression was clearly that the damage was significant. The advice that they gave me was that it was significantly worse than in Port Vila,” Tom Perry from CARE Australia said, whose personnel were among those to assess the damage on Tanna.
“The reports from the team that went down yesterday was that it (Tanna) really has been decimated.”
Disaster management officials and relief workers were struggling to establish contact with the islands that bore the brunt of Cyclone Pam’s winds of more than 300 kilometres per hour, which destroyed homes, smashed boats and washed away roads and bridges as it struck late on Friday and into Saturday.