Super Tropical Cyclone Pam smashed into Vanuatu late last night and early this morning following initial impact in the Solomon Islands.
The storm reached peak intensity on Friday night with winds in the eye region averaging 250 to 270 kmph with gusts to 340 kmph.
Power lines are down and communications are limited but UNICEF Pacific Communications Specialist Alice Clements, who is a New Zealander, has said from her Port Vila base, “It is clear that the full force of Super Cyclone Pam is dramatically worse than had been initially predicted. This will most certainly be a catastrophe for the people of Vanuatu.
“I saw the sliding doors from my three storey hotel room completely blow away – it was terrifying.
“We have some very unconfirmed reports of casualties from the outer islands as well but we’re waiting to get official confirmation on those, which is very sad news if it’s true.”
The fury of Cyclone Pam has also been felt elsewhere in the Solomon Islands.
UNICEF New Zealand Executive Director, Vivien Maidaborn, said, “While it is too early to say for certain, early reports are indicating that this weather disaster could potentially be one of the worst in Pacific history.
“The sheer force of the storm combined with communities just not set up to withstand it, could have devastating results for thousands across the region.
“UNICEF’s biggest concerns now are around ensuring that people have somewhere to shelter given that many will have completely lost their homes or suffered immense damage.”
It is also expected that significant damage will result to structures and shelters, causing temporary displacement of a large number of children and their families. With schools often used for evacuation centres it is expected that education will be significantly impacted.
Ms Maidaborn added, “Another major concern at this point is around access to clean and safe water. Power outages will have a dramatic effect on access to water which will become scarce very quickly. Waterborne diseases from the aftermath of the storm are also a huge concern.”
UNICEF is working with the National Disaster Management Offices (NDMOs) in Vanuatu, Fiji and Solomon Islands to offer support to the emergency preparedness and response particularly in the areas of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), nutrition, health, education and protection.
Ms Maidaborn added, “We currently have our UNICEF children’s emergency fund open and we will remain in close contact with Pacific governments in order to provide additional support should it be called upon.
“While additional updates and assessments continue to come through from our colleagues, we are on standby to launch our fundraising efforts so that New Zealanders can give a helping hand to our Pacific neighbours in need.”