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When hurricanes reach land they wreak havoc but when one like Cyclone Pam makes a direct hit there is mass destruction. In the Pacific, hurricanes are referred to as cyclones and this morning, the South Pacific archipelago Vanuatu became a dead-on target.
The level of destruction cannot yet be determined because virtually all communications and power are out. According to the latest reports, eight people have been killed and thousands more left homeless. The archipelago Vanuatu, which is a string of 65 islands situated between Hawaii and Australia, has a total population of about 267,000 people. Of those, only 47,000 have homes in the capital of Port Vila.
According to Nicola Krey who works with the Save the Children foundation, as rescuers make their way through the islands, more deaths and people without homes will likely be discovered. At this point, just 1,500 people have been counted at the evacuation center in Port Vila, which means there are still virtually thousands of people without protection.
In fact, as stated by Chloe Morrison, emergency communications officer with World Vision International, 76 of its own staff members are still unaccounted for, as well as workers from other aid organizations.
Tom Skirrow who is the director of Save the Children said the eight people reported dead is a very conservative number. That number was confirmed by the National Disaster Management Office from reports taken by paramedics and hospitals.
Staff members with Oxfam, an international aid agency, have been walking the ground, finding nothing but completely demolished homes. It was also reported that trees three stories tall were uprooted and tossed around like matchsticks. Some of the smaller and more remote communities have been wiped off the map.
Colin Collett van Rooyen, Vanuatu Country Director with Oxfam confirmed there is no running water or electricity and moving around to help people has been nearly impossible. He added that for this country, the level of disaster is unprecedented.
Without question, the people of Vanuatu will need a tremendous amount of aid, not only to rebuild homes and communities, but also lives. As stated by Vivien Maidaborn, executive director with New Zealand’s Unicef, there are indications from early reports that this could be the worst storm of its kind in the history of the Pacific.
Two things in particular made this particular storm bad. First, Cyclone Pam was huge and powerful. Second, the people of Vanuatu had little chance to seek shelter since the storm made a last minute directional change to the west.
While the brunt of Cyclone Pam has passed, most people are still laying low since it remains extremely dangerous outside. The sheer devastation is making rescue operations and full assessments of the situation a very serious challenge.
Alice Clements, spokeswoman for Port Vila’s Unicef, described what happened best by saying that it looks like a bomb exploded. Compared to what the beautiful islands looked like yesterday, they are now unrecognizable.