herald

Saturday 19 August 2017

Most of the houses in Vanuatu have been destroyed by a "monster" cyclone that flattened villages and is believed to have killed dozens of people, the Pacific nation's president said yesterday.

Most of the houses in Vanuatu have been destroyed by a "monster" cyclone that flattened villages and is believed to have killed dozens of people, the Pacific nation's president said yesterday.

As authorities and aid workers tried to access hard-hit outlying islands in the archipelago, the first pictures to emerge from remote communities indicated the damage was widespread and severe.

A pilot who flew into Tanna, an island of about 30,000 people which was in the path of the eye of the storm, reported that no roofs were left on any concrete buildings and all corrugated iron structures were "destroyed as far as they could see". Aerial images of Port Vila, the capital, showed rows of collapsed houses.

devastated

Baldwin Lonsdale, Vanuatu's president, appealed for international help, describing Cyclone Pam as a "monster". He said most houses in Port Vila were damaged or destroyed but the impact was "the very very very worst" in the outlying islands.

"It has devastated our entire country," he told the BBC.

The category five cyclone, one of the worst recorded in the southern hemisphere, caused flooding and landslides as it swept through Vanuatu with winds of about 320 kilometres an hour on Friday night and Saturday.

At least 10 people were reported dead and 20 injured, but both figures are expected to rise. Officials have been trying to verify reports that about 40 people died in the central province of Penama.

In Port Vila, authorities declared a state of emergency and prepared to impose a curfew due to "low-level looting".

Catherine de Croy, an Australian tourist, gave a graphic account of a horrifying night in the ballroom of the Holiday Inn hotel, where she had taken shelter with guests and staff. She said the outside of the windows of the ballroom were shuttered, with mattresses tied to the insides, but the storm destroyed a wall in the lobby area and left holidaymakers and hotel staff frantically trying to prevent the room from being flooded.

"The noise was just incredible, and absolutely relentless," she told reporters. "The next morning was a heartbreaking sight. From the main deck, we could see a boat embedded in someone's house in the lagoon front, a hut submerged in the lagoon alongside a set of stairs. Massive trees have been uprooted and are lying on their side - absolutely everything I can see around us has been damaged."

Mandy Hurring (36), a New Zealander who was on honeymoon, said: "It's like a war zone. There are villages gone, power lines are down, there are roofs off."

Outside the capital, communications were down and villages could not be reached because of debris and damage to roads. Much of the 83-island country was reportedly without fresh water.

International aid and relief begun to arrive yesterday, as well as Australian and New Zealand military aircraft. Support has been offered by the UN and the EU, as well as Britain and France, which jointly administered the islands until independence in 1980.

Oxfam estimated that 90pc of the houses in the capital had been seriously damaged.

The cyclone caused damage in other nations throughout the Pacific, including Tuvalu, where about half the homes were damaged, as well as Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Kiribati.

The storm was reported yesterday to be heading towards New Zealand but was weakening and was expected to cause heavy winds and rain.

hnews@herald.ie

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