Vanuatu’s president is appealing for international help after Tropical Cyclone Pam ripped through the Pacific archipelago, leaving thousands of people displaced.
At least six people have been confirmed dead and it is feared there could be more than 40 fatalities after the category five cyclone hit the Vanuatu archipelago on Friday night.
Winds around 250km/h destroyed homes and uprooted trees, with witnesses describing sea surges of up to eight metres and flooding throughout the capital of Port Vila.
Authorities are struggling to gauge the extent of the damage across the country because communications are down and fallen power lines and trees have blocked road access.
The appeal will help Red Cross deliver urgent aid – from providing food, water and shelter to preventing disease outbreaksAustralian Red Cross head of international programs Peter Walton
In Port Vila the scale of the devastation is clear with hundreds of homes flooded, having had their roofs torn off or been destroyed altogether.
Aid agencies estimate at least 10,000 people have been left homeless and the United Nations (UN) says there are unconfirmed reports of 44 deaths.
Vanuatu’s president Baldwin Lonsdale has called for emergency aid from abroad.
“I’m speaking with you today with a heart that is so heavy,” he told a United Nations disaster conference in Japan.
“I stand to appeal on behalf of the government and people of Vanuatu to the global community, to give a lending hand.”
The Australian Red Cross has already launched an appeal for donations to help battered Pacific communities re-build.
Peter Walton, head of international programs for the Australian Red Cross, said the aid agency was raising money to help the country recover with the most pressing issues including the restoration of electricity, sewerage and water systems.
“Red Cross in Vanuatu reports that the humanitarian needs are enormous. Shelter, food and water are urgent priorities right now,” Mr Walton said.
“We need to urgently assess the scale of the humanitarian needs and get essential aid to people as an urgent priority.
“Evacuation centres and other safe buildings are crowded with people seeking shelter, but people are also using traditional methods of protection, sheltering in caves in Erromango Island and parts of the country.
“The appeal will help Red Cross deliver urgent aid – from providing food, water and shelter to preventing disease outbreaks.”
Tom Skirrow from Australian aid agency Save the Children said it could be up to eight weeks before displaced people were able to return to re-build their houses.
“[People that] stayed in their houses last night certainly won’t want to stay in them now given the state of them,” Mr Skirrow said.
“So there’ll probably be about 10,000 people in the evacuation centres just in Port Vila alone.”
Port Vila resident Ben Bohane says people are already trying to rebuild.
“There was a few locals out and about picking up debris and salvaging a few bits of iron roofing and wood and whatever else they can get their hands on which might help them rebuild their own homes,” he said.
“It’s a scene of pretty substantial devastation. When I got up this morning and had a look off my balcony it was just devastation all around, trees shorn of their branches, houses without roofs, boats smashes against rocks.”
He said the situation is likely to be a lot worse on the outer islands.
“Many of the outer islands are a lot more exposed than we are here in Port Vila. That means we have a lot more concrete houses and that sort of thing. So people here in Vila were probably in a better position to weather the storm.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said Australia’s High Commissioner in Vanuatu, Jeremy Bruer, had spoken to the country’s prime minister to offer assistance.
“We are deeply concerned by reports that lives have been lost in northern Vanuatu,” Ms Bishop said.
“They are still unconfirmed but we are deeply concerned by those reports.”
She said there had been no reports of Australian deaths but said there were more than 800 Australians registered in Vanuatu. She said that number, however, could exceed 3,000.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has also offered assistance.
She said specialist crews could be deployed to the area to help restore power if needed.
Meanwhile, Britain has answered prime minister Lonsdale’s plea, pledging $2.9 million to assist Vanuatu’s recovery.
“It is already clear that there has been widespread devastation. Many families have lost their homes and power supplies, roads and other infrastructure have been left badly damaged,” said British international development secretary Justine Greening.
“Our support will ensure relief agencies can provide temporary shelters; protect vulnerable people, especially women and children; and provide emergency supplies as the country responds to this emergency.”