News World Australians unaccounted for in Vanuatu

Australians unaccounted for in Vanuatu

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More than 100 Australians and Canadians are still unaccounted for in Vanuatu six days after Tropical Cyclone Pam hit.

The category five storm flattened the Pacific island state last Friday, killing at least 11 people and leaving thousands homeless.

The Australian High Commission has made contact with hundreds of citizens since the cyclone, but many are still missing.

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Some have managed to make brief contact over staticky satellite phones, and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) has chartered a helicopter to track them down and verify the calls.

The helicopter is also being used to track down Canadian citizens because, under an agreement, the Australian government provides consular services to them in Vanuatu.

tropical cyclone pam
Red Cross rescuers walking past a C-130 Hercules from 40 Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Photo: Getty

DFAT is currently focused on locating any Australian citizens on the southern islands of Tanna and Aneityum, as well as Ambae and Pentecost islands in the north.

The RAAF has also ended free flights to Australia for shell-shocked expats and holiday-makers.

Air Vanuatu has also been swamped with requests for refunds by Australian tourists.

The company has told DFAT that many seem to be taking advantage of the disaster by trying to refund the cost of their return flights after they were flown out for free by the air force.

DFAT said an Australian volunteer and two British nationals were being flown into Port Vila from Pentecost island on Thursday.

The Australian had been based on the island when the cyclone hit.

Australian navy ship HMAS Tobruk is on its way to Vanuatu with 335 personnel onboard, as well as a Navy MRH90 Taipan helicopter and extra aid supplies.

Preparations are also underway to deploy two Army S-70 Blackhawk helicopters, Defence Minister Kevin Andrews said in a statement.

Aid, troops arrive on Vanuatu’s Tanna

Aid packages and more than 100 Australian and French troops have arrived on the Vanuatu island of Tanna after Cyclone Pam.

The storm killed at least six people on the island and seriously injured many more.

tropical cyclone pam
Australian doctors attend to a young girl at the Lenakel Hospital on the Vanuatu island of Tanna. Photo: Getty

At least 80 per cent of people suffered damaged or destroyed homes and most are sleeping rough on the concrete foundation slabs of their houses.

Food and water have been dwindling and some people have been eating rotten fruit picked up off the ground.

Local authorities say without supplies hundreds could begin to starve within days.

UNICEF packages containing water, power generators and chainsaws were sitting at the island’s sole airport on Thursday morning.

An Australian Defence Force assessment team rolled up to the Community Disaster Committee meeting at the province capital Lenakel on Thursday.

The Australians are there to assess damage to infrastructure and help restore frontline services.

An even larger contingent of French marines from New Caledonia also arrived on Tanna on Thursday.

About 100 troops caused a spectacle for locals when they touched down in a helicopter on a sports field.

Excited local children chanted “helicopter, helicopter, helicopter” as they looked up from the ruins of their homes.

After a meeting with the disaster committee heads the French troops began fanning out across Tanna.

French marines were seen repairing communication systems at the airport late on Thursday morning and moments later a French military cargo plane flew in.

A French frigate carrying helicopters and relief supplies has also steamed over to the island from New Caledonia.

The helicopters will be used to make contact with communities cut off in southern Tanna, as well as the outlying islands of Erromango, Futuna, Aniwa and Aneityum.

The choppers will also help technicians access and repair downed telecommunications towers high up on Tanna’s mountains.

Luckily for hungry and homeless Tanna islanders the recovery effort is beginning to gather speed.

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