World & Nation

Tropical cyclone devastates Vanuatu in South Pacific

Tropical Cyclone Pam
Debris caused by Cyclone Pam is scattered along the coast in the Vanuatu capital of Port Vila.
(UNICEF Pacific / AFP/Getty Images)

At least eight people were reported dead and thousands more homeless after Tropical Cyclone Pam slammed through the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, aid organizations said Saturday.

"The scene here this morning is complete devastation – houses are destroyed, trees are down, roads are blocked and people are wandering the streets looking for help,” said Tom Skirrow, Save the Children's Vanuatu country director, in a statement.

Vanuatu, east of Australia, has a population of about 260,000 people. About 47,000 people live in the nation's capital, Port Vila.

Communications were down across much of the country, according to relief groups. The total extent of the devastation won’t be clear for several days, they said.

The death toll was expected to rise after the winds of more than 150 mph that tore through country. The Category 5 cyclone could be the worst in Vanuatu’s history, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“A disaster of this magnitude has not been experienced by Vanuatu in recent history – particularly in terms of the reach of the potential damage and the ferocity of the storm,” Sune Gudnitz, head of OCHA’s regional office in the Pacific, said in a statement.

A host of aid agencies posted calls for help online, including the United Nations Children's Fund, the Australian Red Cross and Oxfam.

Jayleen, 21, told UNICEF about her experience trying to find shelter with her family's one-week-old baby:

"The roof blew off and the rain was pouring inside. The wind was too strong and the shutters blew off, the glass windows smashed to the floor," she told UNICEF.

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