Cyclone Pam Rips Through Vanuatu Killing at Least 8 and Destroying Thousands of Homes

Yachts damaged by Cyclone Pam in Port-Vila, Vanuatu, on Saturday. (PHOTO CREDIT: Unicef Pacific, via Associated Press)
Yachts damaged by Cyclone Pam in Port-Vila, Vanuatu, on Saturday. (PHOTO CREDIT: Unicef Pacific, via Associated Press)

A cyclone mauled the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on Saturday, killing at least eight people, tearing apart many homes and leaving residents to fear even worse death and destruction on remoter parts of the archipelago that remained out of contact.

Tropical Cyclone Pam has left a path of damage across the Pacific Ocean, and it bore down on the islands of Vanuatu from late Friday with winds of around 160 miles an hour, according to the Vanuatu meteorological service. Residents endured a night of roaring winds, and several in the capital, Port-Vila, said it was the most ferocious cyclone they could remember.

On Sunday morning, many towns and villages remained out of contact with the capital, leaving government officials and relief workers uncertain, but fearful, about the extent of the damage.

“It’s absolutely devastating here,” Charlie Damon, a program manager for the charity CARE International, said in a phone interview from Port-Vila. “We can make assumptions on the outer islands based on what we see here.”

Tom Skirrow, the country director for the aid group Save the Children, said eight deaths had been confirmed by Vanuatu’s disaster management office, Reuters reported. But aid workers stressed the preliminary death toll was only for the relatively well-built capital. “We’re assuming that the death toll will grow,” Ms. Damon said.

The president of Vanuatu, Baldwin Lonsdale, who was in Japan attending the World Conference on Disaster Risk and Reduction, told participants on Saturday that the amount of damage was unclear but that it appeared to be devastating. “All I can say is that our hope for prospering into the future has been shattered,” Mr. Lonsdale said, according to an account from the conference organizers.

On Saturday night, thousands crowded into emergency centers in schools and other larger buildings, as fierce winds and rain continued to whip the islands.

“Around here, I would say 90 percent of houses have been damaged,” Isaac Savuah, a field officer for CARE, said in a telephone interview from Port-Vila.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Chris Buckley