Vanuatu President Says Nation Must Start Anew After Cyclone
Vanuatu’s president said Monday that the cyclone that hammered the tiny South Pacific archipelago over the weekend was a “monster” that destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings in the capital and has forced the nation to start anew.
Looking weary and red-eyed, Baldwin Lonsdale said in an interview with The Associated Press that the latest information he had was that six people were confirmed dead and 30 injured from Cyclone Pam. Lonsdale was interviewed in Sendai, in northeastern Japan, where he had been attending a U.N. disaster conference when the cyclone struck.
He appealed for international aid for the place he calls “paradise.”
“This is a very devastating cyclone in Vanuatu. I term it as a monster, a monster,” he said. “It’s a setback for the government and for the people of Vanuatu. After all the development that has taken place, all this development has been wiped out.”
Lonsdale said because of the break in communications, even he could not reach his family. “We do not know if our families are safe or not. As the leader of the nation, my whole heart is for the people, the nation,” he said.
He and other top Vanuatu government officials were preparing to return home from Sendai later Monday.
Officials in Vanuatu had still not made contact with outlying islands and were struggling to determine the scale of devastation from the cyclone, which tore through the nation early Saturday, packing winds of 270 kilometers (168 miles) per hour.
Paolo Malatu, coordinator for Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office, said officials had dispatched every plane and helicopter they could to fly over the hard-hit outer islands.
“The damage to homes and infrastructure is severe,” Malatu said. “The priority at the moment is to get people water, food and shelter.”
He said bridges were down outside the capital, Port Vila, making travel by vehicle impossible even around the main island of Efate.
New Zealand radio journalist Frances Cook and her husband traveled to Vanuatu for their honeymoon two days before the cyclone struck. She said they knew a storm was coming but figured from the forecasts it wouldn’t be too bad.
“It’s been exciting,” she joked.
Instead of zip-lining through the jungle and looking at active volcanoes as planned, Cook has been reporting back home on the devastation. She said a lot of stranded tourists were desperate to leave and some were afraid for their security.
“It’s a glorious place and the people are so lovely,” she said. “It’s quite upsetting to see this happen.”
The airport in Port Vila has reopened, allowing some aid and relief flights to reach the country. Lonsdale said a wide range of items were needed, from tarpaulins and water containers to medical supplies and construction tools.
Some commercial flights have resumed, although services are limited. Georgina Roberts, New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Vanuatu, said two defense force planes would arrive Monday to retrieve about 100 stranded New Zealand tourists.
In Port Vila, smashed boats littered the harbor, and sodden piles of household belongings tangled among twisted tree branches lay where some homes once stood.
Many of the city’s residents spent Monday clearing away downed trees and cleaning up what was left of their houses. Those left homeless were generally staying with loved ones whose houses had withstood the storm, or sleeping in temporary shelters provided by aid agencies, said UNICEF spokeswoman Alice Clements.