Cyclone leaves trail of destruction

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Published: Saturday 14th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Winds from an extremely powerful cyclone that blew through the Pacific’s Vanuatu archipelago have begun to subside, revealing widespread destruction and unconfirmed reports of dozens of deaths.

Communication systems in many of the hard-hit outer islands remained down, meaning it could take some time before the full extent of the damage caused by Cyclone Pam is known.

Chloe Morrison, a World Vision emergency communications officer who is in Port Vila, said the capital’s streets were littered with roofs blown from homes, uprooted trees and downed power lines. She added there were reports of entire villages being destroyed in more remote areas.

There is no power or running water in the capital and that communication remains unreliable, Ms Morrison added.

“It’s still really quite dangerous outside. Most people are still hunkering down,” she said. “The damage is quite extensive in Port Vila but there are so many more vulnerable islands. I can’t even imagine what it’s like in those vulnerable communities.”

Ms Morrison said the winds seemed to peak between midnight and 1am on Saturday. She said she was in a fully boarded-up cyclone-proof house but still spent a frightening night as a tree and a tin roof from a nearby home hit her house.

A westward change of course put populated areas directly in the path of Cyclone Pam’s 270 kilometre (168 mile) per hour winds. The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said there were unconfirmed reports of deaths in Vanuatu’s northeastern islands after Cyclone Pam moved off its expected track.

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.

The tiny Pacific island nation has repeatedly warned it is already suffering devastating effects from climate change with the island’s coastal areas being washed away, forcing resettlement to higher ground and smaller yields on traditional crops.

The cyclone has already destroyed some homes and caused damage to other Pacific islands including Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.

David Gibson, acting director of the Vanuatu meteorology and geo-hazards department, said the winds could cause severe damage to the nation’s buildings.

Alice Clements, a spokeswoman for relief agency Unicef who is in Port Vila, said the capital was like a ghost town as people took shelter. She said the pelting rain was blown horizontally by the wind.

Authorities in New Zealand are preparing for the storm, which is forecast to pass north of the country on Sunday and Monday.

Published: Saturday 14th March 2015 by The News Editor

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