Cyclone Pam takes a swipe at Vanuatu
Sunday, March 15, 2015, 8:30 AM - The death toll in the wake of Vanuatu’s Cyclone Pam has increased. Dubbed “[o]ne of the Pacific Ocean’s most powerful storms ever,” Cyclone Pam leaves eight people dead so far – a figure set to rise, according to aid officials. Unconfirmed reports place the number of deaths closer to 45, according to the Associated Press.
Aid has begun to arrive to the island nation as aircrafts from Australia and New Zealand touched down in Vanuatu bringing supplies. Aerial footage showed many homes entirely obliterated by the strong wind gusts of up to 300 km/h—equivalent to a category 5 hurricane.
A state of emergency has been declared for all 65 islands, after Cyclone Pam destroyed most of capital city Port Vila.
A World vision spokeswoman told the BBC she had heard reports of entire villages in remote areas being destroyed.
"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," Chloe Morrison told the BBC.
The lack of communications and extensive damage to infrastructure will make emergency aid harder to enter the country.
The Australian Red Cross said the islands had suffered "unbelievable destruction", with people sheltering in caves in some areas.
The agency said on Twitter most homes in Port Vila have been damaged or destroyed.
Humanitarian needs will be enormous. Many people have lost their homes. Shelter, food and water urgent priorities. #CyclonePam— Australian Red Cross (@RedCrossAU) March 14, 2015
Many local officials appealed to countries around the world to assist Vanuatu. Regional head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Aurelia Balpe told Reuters that the assistance is necessary.
"The country mostly relies on first aid posts and the supplies in the clinics are probably just antibiotics and pain relief," Balpe said.
New Zealand has pledged around $734,000 in emergency aid, while Australia says it is preparing an emergency response team to depart for Vanuatu if needed.
The storm had previously impacted Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands and as of Sunday morning was travelling toward New Zealand where severe weather warnings were issued, despite the system weakening.
WATCH NOW: First-person video from the eye of Cyclone Pam.