Villages wiped out by Pacific storm

Published: Saturday 14th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Aid agencies fear that a tropical cyclone could have wiped out entire villages in Vanuatu, in what could be one of the worst disasters in Pacific history.

Unconfirmed reports suggest dozens of people could have died when Cyclone Pam tore through the archipelago of islands with winds of up to 155mph.

The devastation is beginning to emerge but communications have been affected and it could be some time until the extent of the damage is known.

The Foreign Office said it is working to establish whether any British nationals were affected by the disaster.

The highly populated island of Efate, which includes the Vanuatu capital Port Vila, was directly in the path of the cyclone.

Oxfam’s executive director Helen Szoke said the agency was also deeply concerned for people in Vanuatu’s harder to reach outer islands.

“These islands have much less infrastructure than the capital of Port Vila and are extremely remote and hard to reach in the best of times,” Dr Szoke said.

‘We hold grave fears for the people on these outer and remote islands. It’s becoming increasingly clear that we are now dealing with a worst-case scenario in Vanuatu.”

The charity said there is “real concern” of a high death toll, with more than 250,000 people at risk from the tropical cyclone.

Unicef New Zealand 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.”

Located about a quarter of the way from Australia to Hawaii, Vanuatu has a population of 267,000 spread over 65 islands. About 47,000 people live in the capital.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We’re working to establish whether any British nationals are affected by the cyclone. We stand ready to offer consular assistance.”

Chloe Morrison, a World Vision emergency communications officer, said the capital’s streets were littered with roofs blown from homes, uprooted trees and downed power lines while she had heard reports of entire villages being destroyed in more remote areas.

The president of Vanuatu, Baldwin Lonsdale, was attending the World Conference on Disaster Risk and Reduction in Japan when the cyclone hit.

“I do not really know what impact the cyclone has had on Vanuatu,” he said.

“I am speaking to you today with a heart that is so heavy. I stand to appeal on behalf of the government and the people to give a helping hand in this disaster.”

Published: Saturday 14th March 2015 by The News Editor

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