WELLINGTON, (Reuters) – The first reports from the outer islands of Vanuatu yesterday painted a picture of utter destruction after a monster cyclone tore through the Pacific island nation.
Authorities in the South Pacific nation were struggling to establish contact with the islands that bore the brunt of Cyclone Pam’s winds of more than 300 kph (185 mph), which flattened buildings, smashed boats and washed away roads and bridges as it struck late on Friday and into Saturday.
The government’s official toll is eight dead and 20 injured but that looks certain to rise, given the extent of the damage.
The southern island of Tanna, about 200 km (125 miles) south of the capital, Port Vila with its 29,000 inhabitants, took the full force of the category 5 storm. Early reports said it had been devastated.
“What they saw was lots of debris, the foliage was completely destroyed, lots of uprooted trees,” the Red Cross regional head Aurelia Balpe told Radio New Zealand, citing a pilot who had been able to land on the island. “All corrugated iron structures destroyed, concrete structures, all of them without roofs.”
There were unconfirmed reports of two deaths on the island, but the toll is expected to rise significantly.
Balpe said the main town on the island of Erromango looked to have been “flattened”.
In Port Vila, where seas were reported to have surged as high as 8 metres (26 feet), a clean-up was under way with as much as three-quarters of the capital’s houses reported destroyed or severely damaged.