Cyclone devastates Pacific island nation of Vanuatu

Amateur video shows damage caused by Cyclone Pam after it hit the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

PORT VILA, VANUATU (MARCH 14, 2015) (AMATEUR VIDEO) – Amateur video reveals damage in Port Vila after Cyclone Pam tore through the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on Saturday (March 14).

At least eight people have been confirmed dead after a cyclone devastated the island, a senior aid agency official said on Saturday.

Another 20 have been confirmed injured, Save the Children’s country director Tom Skirrow told Reuters by telephone from Port Vila, saying the figure came from the nation’s National Disaster Management Office and was based on reports from hospitals and paramedic services.

Winds up to 340 kilometres an hour (210 mph) ripped metal roofs off houses and downed trees as relief agencies brace for a major rescue operation and unconfirmed reports said dozens had died.

Witnesses described sea surges of up to eight metres and flooding throughout the capital, Port Vila, after Category Five Cyclone Pam hit the country.

Communications with the outside world were largely knocked out.

Aid officials said the storm may be unprecedented in the island’s history and could be one of the worst natural disasters the Pacific region has ever seen, hitting Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands before reaching Vanuatu late on Friday (March 13).

Residents had the roofs ripped off their homes as they tried to shelter and then found themselves unable to move because of the strong winds. Many of Vanuatu’s 260,000 people live in buildings made of thatch.

The Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office had red alerts in place for several provinces, but late on Saturday the storm was beginning to move off slowly to the south.

U.N. relief workers were preparing to send in teams on Sunday (March 15) but with the airport closed and winds still high it remained unclear whether they would be able to land.

Unconfirmed reports said that 44 people died in outlying north-eastern islands, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said. Figures from the government were not available and aid workers.

Aid officials said at least one person died in Papua New Guinea’s outlying islands, but many areas were cut off.

Cyclone Pam is the most severe storm to hit the tiny Pacific island nation since at least 1987. Aid officials said it was comparable in strength to Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in 2013 and killed more than 6,000 people.