Vanuatu suffered a major category five tropical cyclone over the weekend, which saw the deaths of at least 10 people.
Cyclone Pam tore through the Pacific nation with winds reaching 320 kilometres per hour, according to SMH, smashing homes and boats, and washing away roads and bridges, as it gathered force on Friday evening and into Saturday.
Vanuatu Tourism Office has informed that a state of emergency was declared for Shefa province, which is found in the country’s capital Port Vila, effective from Sunday.
“Vanuatu has been hit by a natural disaster and the key priority of both the Vanuatu and Australian governments and the national carrier Air Vanuatu is to provide much-needed aid to restore essential services and infrastructure and ultimately assist the Ni-Vanuatu people to rebuild their communities,” VTO’s Australian director Sarah Anderson said.
Much-needed aid and relief supplies have begun to arrive in Vanuatu from Australia and New Zealand, with some calling the storm one of the region’s worst.
According to reports from Sky News, two Australian airforce planes landed with food, shelter and medicine, while a New Zealand military aircraft also arrived loaded with eight tonnes of tarpaulins, water containers, chainsaw packs and generators.
Of the ten reported dead so far, two people were from Tanna Island, almost 100 kilometres south of Port Vila, with the death toll expected to rise as rescuers head to the low-lying archipelago’s outer islands.
ABC Online reported that Red Cross official Aurelia Balpe had spoken to a pilot who described the mass destruction on Tanna.
“We have grave fears for the many communities we haven’t reached yet,” Balpe said.
Sky News reported the UN had unconfirmed reports Cyclone Pam had killed 44 people in one province alone, while Oxford said the destruction in Port Vila wrecked 90% of all houses.
“This is likely to be one of the worst disasters ever seen in the Pacific, the scale of humanitarian need will be enormous… entire communities have been blown away,” Oxford’s Vanuatu director Colin Collet van Rooyen said.
According to ABC Online, Australia’s contribution is part of an initial assistance package, which was announced by Foreign Affair’s Minister Julie Bishop, and includes $5 million for Australia NGOs and UN agencies on the ground in Vanuatu.
NZ has also offered NZ$2.5 million in initial aid, while Britain, a former joint ruler of Vanuatu with France, has offered the equivalent of $3.86 million in assistance.
Communications are still largely shut down on the island, and Port Vila airport was closed to commercial aircraft while airport and terminal services are being restored.
“From a tourism infrastructure perspective many resorts are reporting limited or no damage to buildings so once essential services are restored to a normal level, resorts will again be open for business,” Anderson added.
“In the months to come Australians will be encouraged to support Vanuatu by visiting but for the next few days the emphasis is on getting the country back on its feet.”
“We advise those managing bookings for travel to Vanuatu in the next few weeks to check directly with the property and Air Vanuatu to confirm if they are able to cater for these guests as planned.”
Some airlines, including Air Vanuatu, have advised that they will resume flights this morning, March 16.
Vanuatu tourism operators have also reported the following operators as being affected:
Sunset Bungalows: Sustained some damage. Guests moved to Chantilly’s on the Bay.
Chantilly’s on the Bay: Small amount of damage. Wharf has been washed away.
The Terraces: Minor ceiling damage to the reception. Open for business.
Mangoes Resort: Sustained minimal damage. Open for business.
Vale Vale: Minimal damage to resort and repairs will be made as soon as power is restored. Open for business.
Iririki Island Resort: Early reports suggest the property sustained significant damage.
Ocean Blue Vanuatu: Minimal damage to some lodges in the resort.
The Havannah: The road to the resort is gone. Resort sustained significant damage.
Warwick Le Lagon: Damage sustained by resort, total impact not yet confirmed.
Benjour Beach Club: Sustained minor damage to resort, will remain closed for one month.
Poppys on the Lagoon: Sustained limited damage, unable to accept new guests for a few days.
Vila 25: Sustained minimal damage. Open for business.
The Melanesian: No major damage but no power. Some inconvenience to new guests in the coming weeks.
Moorings: No major damage but no power. Some inconvenience to new guests in the coming weeks.
Coconut Palms Resort: Sustained minimal damage and will be closed for up to three weeks.
Mariner Apartments: Sustained minimal damage – more information to come.
More information will be shared on a regular basis as it becomes available.
For general updates follow the Vanuatu Tourism Australia Facebook page www.facebook.com/VanuatuAus.
Enquiries regarding Australian residents currently in Vanuatu can call the DFAT hotline: 1300 555 135.