Several feared dead after massive cyclone
Residents in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu hunkered in emergency shelters for a second straight night yesterday after venturing out to find their homes damaged or blown away by the powerful storm, aid workers said.
Packing winds of 270 kilometres (168 miles) per hour, Cyclone Pam busted through the tiny South Pacific archipelago early yesterday, leaving a trail of destruction and unconfirmed reports of dozens of deaths.
Power remained out across Vanuatu late yesterday, and people on many of the outer islands had no access to running water or outside communications, said Chloe Morrison, a World Vision emergency communications officer in the capital, Port Vila.
Morrison said communications have been so problematic that her aid group hasn't yet been able to account for many of its own 76 staff on the islands, and authorities have been unable to assess the extent of the damage.
"I can say that for anybody who wasn't in a secure shelter last night, it would have been a very, very tough time for them," said Morrison.
Vanuatu has a population of 267,000 spread over 65 islands. About 47,000 people live in the capital.
Morrison said authorities did a good job Friday, moving thousands of people in Port Vila into 23 evacuation centres. With the winds and rain easing yesterday, many people stepped out only to find that their homes were missing a roof or had disappeared, and were forced to return to the shelters.
Teetering trees and downed power lines in Port Vila have made many areas hazardous, Morrison said, adding that she had heard reports of entire villages being destroyed in more remote areas.
"It's still really quite dangerous outside. Most people are still hunkering down," she said.
The United Nation's children's agency, UNICEF, estimated that 54,000 children were among those affected by the cyclone.
She said the winds peaked between about midnight Friday and 1:00 a.m. Saturday.
A westward change of course put populated areas directly in the path of Cyclone Pam.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said there were unconfirmed reports of 44 deaths in Vanuatu's north eastern islands after Pam moved off its expected track.