Interview with Alex Mathieson, former Vanuatu country director for the aid group Oxfam. Video: DemocracyNow
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
PORT VILA (SBS/Pacific Media Watch): Twenty-four people have been confirmed dead days after a massive tropical cyclone lashed the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.
“There are 24 confirmed fatalities, 11 from Tafea, eight from Efate and five from Tanna,” the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a situation report.
SBS correspondent Stefan Armbruster is in Port Vila and reports here.
The storm hit the archipelago on Friday night, damaging up to 90 percent of homes in the capital, with aid agencies warning that conditions were among the most challenging they have faced.
“Despite reports of severe and widespread damage, Shefa remains the only province declared an emergency at this stage,” said OCHA, referring to the region that includes Port Vila.
More than 3000 people were in 37 evacuation centres, and aerial assessments have been conducted by military aircraft from Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia.
“Radio and telephone communications with outer islands is yet to be established,” said OCHA.
In Port Vila, access to water has been partially restored, stores have begun reopening and the town’s airport has finally begun accepting flights.
Aid workers have started streaming in to take the measure of what many have said might be one of the region’s worst weather disasters.
“It lasted for hours, it was endless,” said one taxi driver in the capital, still visibly in shock from the storm that hit the island chain on Friday night.
“The cyclone terrified us. I have never seen anything like it,” he said.
His house was flooded, but not destroyed like many of the others in the town.
Around him, trees, metal roof sheeting and all manner of debris littered the road from Port Vila’s international airport to the town. At the beach, several boats lay on their side.
Bigger and more solidly constructed buildings largely remain standing but almost all have suffered some damage.
Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale, currently in Japan for a conference, described the cyclone as “a monster” and appealed for international aid.
“This is a very devastating cyclone in Vanuatu. I term it as a monster, a monster,” he said.
“It’s a setback for the government and for the people of Vanuatu. After all the development that has taken place, all this development has been wiped out.”
He said he could not reach his family due to the breakdown in communications.
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