UN: 24 dead in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam

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UN: 24 dead in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam
Relief workers saw a flattened landscape and widespread destruction in their first views of Vanuatu's outer islands after struggling for days to assess the areas of the South Pacific nation hit hardest by a fierce cyclone.
In this Monday, March 16, 2015 photo, an Australian RAAF C-17 Globemaster containing aid is unloaded in Vanuatu's capital Port Villa. Vanuatu's president said Monday that the cyclone that hammered the tiny South Pacific archipelago over the weekend was a "monster" that has destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings in the capital and has forced the nation to start anew. (AP Photo/Dave Hunt, Pool)
Winds from an extremely powerful cyclone that blew through the Pacific's Vanuatu archipelago were beginning to subside on Saturday, revealing widespread destruction and unconfirmed reports of dozens of deaths. (March 14)
In this Monday, March 16, 2015 photo, clothes are seen laid out to dry as Adrian Banga surveys his destroyed house in Vanuatu's capital Port Vila. Aid has begun arriving in the storm-hit nation's capital following Cyclone Pam, but contact has still not been made with some of its more remote islands. (AP Photo/Dave Hunt, Pool)
Graphic locates Vanuatu; 1c x 3 inches; 46.5 mm x 76 mm;
Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale (2nd L) walks with unidentified staff at Vanuatu International Airport after arriving home from Japan on March 17, 2015, after Cyclone Pam ripped through the island nation. Vanuatu on March 17 warned it faces imminent food shortages as accounts emerged of huge damage to a large outer island, days after one of the fiercest cyclones on record pummelled the Pacific archipelago. AFP PHOTO/Jeremy PIPER (Photo credit should read JEREMY PIPER/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of part of Vanuatu's capital Port Vila on March 17, 2015 after Cyclone Pam ripped through the island nation. Vanuatu warned it faces imminent food shortages as accounts emerged of huge damage to a large outer island, days after one of the fiercest cyclones on record pummelled the sprawling Pacific nation. AFP PHOTO/Jeremy PIPER (Photo credit should read JEREMY PIPER/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo taken on March 17, 2015 shows men trying to repair a damaged bridge in Port-Vila, in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu after Super Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through on March 13, packing wind gusts of up to 320 kilometres (200 miles) an hour. Vanuatu warned on March 17, 2015 it faces imminent food shortages as accounts emerged of huge damage to a large outer island, days after one of the fiercest cyclones on record pummelled the Pacific archipelago. AFP PHOTO / FRED PAYET (Photo credit should read FRED PAYET/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo taken on March 17, 2015 shows a damaged bridge in Port-Vila, in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu after Super Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through on March 13, packing wind gusts of up to 320 kilometres (200 miles) an hour. Vanuatu warned on March 17, 2015 it faces imminent food shortages as accounts emerged of huge damage to a large outer island, days after one of the fiercest cyclones on record pummelled the Pacific archipelago. AFP PHOTO / FRED PAYET (Photo credit should read FRED PAYET/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents clean up their homes in Vanuatu's capital Port Vila on March 17, 2015 after Cyclone Pam ripped through the island nation. Vanuatu warned it faces imminent food shortages as accounts emerged of huge damage to a large outer island, days after one of the fiercest cyclones on record pummelled the sprawling Pacific nation. AFP PHOTO/Jeremy PIPER (Photo credit should read JEREMY PIPER/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows clothes drying on a roof as residents clean up their homes in Vanuatu's capital Port Vila on March 17, 2015 after Cyclone Pam ripped through the island nation. Vanuatu warned it faces imminent food shortages as accounts emerged of huge damage to a large outer island, days after one of the fiercest cyclones on record pummelled the sprawling Pacific nation. AFP PHOTO/Jeremy PIPER (Photo credit should read JEREMY PIPER/AFP/Getty Images)
Children play in the debris in Vanuatu's capital Port Vila on March 17, 2015 after Cyclone Pam ripped through the island nation. The UN said that twenty-four people have been killed by Cyclone Pam, as the Pacific nation's president pleaded for help to rebuild the archipelago's 'completely destroyed' infrastructure. AFP PHOTO/Jeremy PIPER (Photo credit should read JEREMY PIPER/AFP/Getty Images)
In this Monday, March 16, 2015 photo, an Australian RAAF C-17 Globemaster, en route to Vanuatu, is loaded with supplies and aid workers. Vanuatu's president said Monday that the cyclone that hammered the tiny South Pacific archipelago over the weekend was a "monster" that has destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings in the capital and has forced the nation to start anew. (AP Photo/Dave Hunt, Pool)
This aerial photo taken on March 16, 2015 shows the cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu after Super Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through on March 13, packing wind gusts of up to 320 kilometres (200 miles) an hour. Aid agencies on March 16 described conditions in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu as among the most challenging they have ever faced, as the Pacific nation's president blamed climate change for worsening the devastation. AFP PHOTO / FRED PAYET (Photo credit should read FRED PAYET/AFP/Getty Images)
Samuel, only his first name given, carries a ball through the ruins of their family home as his father, Phillip, at back, picks through the debris in Port Vila, Vanuatu in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam Monday, March 16, 2015. Vanuatu's President Baldwin Lonsdale said Monday that the cyclone that hammered the tiny South Pacific archipelago over the weekend was a "monster" that has destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings in the capital and has forced the nation to start anew. (AP Photo/Dave Hunt, Pool)
Samuel, only his first name given, and as his father, Phillip, right, stand amongst of their destroyed home in Port Vila, Vanuatu in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam Monday, March 16, 2015. Vanuatu's President Baldwin Lonsdale said Monday that the cyclone that hammered the tiny South Pacific archipelago over the weekend was a "monster" that has destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings in the capital and has forced the nation to start anew. (AP Photo/Dave Hunt, Pool)
Samuel, only his first name given, kicks a ball through the ruins of their family home as his father, Phillip, at back, picks through the debris in Port Vila, Vanuatu in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam Monday, March 16, 2015. Vanuatu's President Baldwin Lonsdale said Monday that the cyclone that hammered the tiny South Pacific archipelago over the weekend was a "monster" that has destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings in the capital and has forced the nation to start anew. (AP Photo/Dave Hunt, Pool)
Uwen Garae surveys his damaged house in Port Vila, Vanuatu in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam Monday, March 16, 2015. Vanuatu's President Baldwin Lonsdale said Monday that the cyclone that hammered the tiny South Pacific archipelago over the weekend was a "monster" that has destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings in the capital and has forced the nation to start anew. (AP Photo/Dave Hunt, Pool)
This aerial photo taken on March 16, 2015 shows the cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu after Super Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through on March 13, packing wind gusts of up to 320 kilometres (200 miles) an hour. Aid agencies on March 16 described conditions in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu as among the most challenging they have ever faced, as the Pacific nation's president blamed climate change for worsening the devastation. AFP PHOTO / FRED PAYET (Photo credit should read FRED PAYET/AFP/Getty Images)
This aerial photo taken on March 16, 2015 shows uprooted trees in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu after Super Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through on March 13, packing wind gusts of up to 320 kilometres (200 miles) an hour. Aid agencies on March 16 described conditions in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu as among the most challenging they have ever faced, as the Pacific nation's president blamed climate change for worsening the devastation. AFP PHOTO / FRED PAYET (Photo credit should read FRED PAYET/AFP/Getty Images)
This aerial photo taken on March 16, 2015 shows the cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu after Super Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through on March 13, packing wind gusts of up to 320 kilometres (200 miles) an hour. Aid agencies on March 16 described conditions in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu as among the most challenging they have ever faced, as the Pacific nation's president blamed climate change for worsening the devastation. AFP PHOTO / FRED PAYET (Photo credit should read FRED PAYET/AFP/Getty Images)
PORT VILA, VANUATU - MARCH 16: Adrian Banga surveys his destroyed house on March 16, 2015 in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Cyclone Pam has hit South Pacific islands on Saturday with hurricane force winds, huge ocean swells and flash flooding and has caused severe damage to housing. Aid agencies say it could be one of the worst disasters ever to hit the region. (Photo by Dave Hunt - Pool/Getty Images)
PORT VILA, VANUATU - MARCH 16: An aerial view of damaged houses in seen on March 16, 2015 in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Cyclone Pam has hit South Pacific islands on Saturday with hurricane force winds, huge ocean swells and flash flooding and has caused severe damage to housing. Aid agencies say it could be one of the worst disasters ever to hit the region. (Photo by Dave Hunt - Pool/Getty Images)
Aid workers have described the moment a fierce storm hit the south Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu - saying "it felt like the world was going to end". Dozens are feared dead, trees have been uprooted, entire villages destroyed as Cyclone Pam ripped through the islands with winds reaching nearly 170 miles an hour. Frightened residents are now attempting to embark on the huge clean up operation, with no power or running water.
Map locates Cyclone Pam that hit the island of Vanuatu; 2c x 3 inches; 96.3 mm x 76 mm;
The sea is pictured on March 14, 2015 in the Anse Vata, south of Noumea, New Caledonia. Rain and wind were observed in the island but the Tropical Cyclone Pam had little effect on Noumea. The maximum category five cyclone hit Vanuatu island, 500 km east of New Caledonia, late on March 13 and early indications suggest widespread damage, including in the capital in Port Vila, with fears dozens of people could have died across the country. AFP PHOTO / FRED PAYET (Photo credit should read FRED PAYET/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks near the sea on March 14, 2015 in the Anse Vata, south of Noumea, New Caledonia. Rain and wind were observed in the island but the Tropical Cyclone Pam had little effect on Noumea. The maximum category five cyclone hit Vanuatu island, 500 km east of New Caledonia, late on March 13 and early indications suggest widespread damage, including in the capital in Port Vila, with fears dozens of people could have died across the country. AFP PHOTO / FRED PAYET (Photo credit should read FRED PAYET/AFP/Getty Images)
A man looks at the sea on March 14, 2015 in the Anse Vata, south of Noumea, New Caledonia. Rain and wind were observed in the island but the Tropical Cyclone Pam had little effect on Noumea. The maximum category five cyclone hit Vanuatu island, 500 km east of New Caledonia, late on March 13 and early indications suggest widespread damage, including in the capital in Port Vila, with fears dozens of people could have died across the country. AFP PHOTO / FRED PAYET (Photo credit should read FRED PAYET/AFP/Getty Images)
The sea is pictured on March 14, 2015 in the Anse Vata, south of Noumea, New Caledonia. Rain and wind were observed in the island but the Tropical Cyclone Pam had little effect on Noumea. The maximum category five cyclone hit Vanuatu island, 500 km east of New Caledonia, late on March 13 and early indications suggest widespread damage, including in the capital in Port Vila, with fears dozens of people could have died across the country. AFP PHOTO / FRED PAYET (Photo credit should read FRED PAYET/AFP/Getty Images)
Damage is visible in Port Vila, Vanuatu, Sunday, March 15, 2015 after Tropical Cyclone Pam ripped through through the pacific island nation. Winds from the powerful cyclone have subsided revealing widespread destruction. (AAP Image/ Kris Paras)
Damage is visible in Port Vila, Vanuatu, Sunday, March 15, 2015 after Tropical Cyclone Pam ripped through through the pacific island nation. Winds from the powerful cyclone have subsided revealing widespread destruction. (AAP Image/ Kris Paras)
Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale, left, Minister for Climate Change James Bule, center, and National Disaster Management Office Director Shadrack Rubart Welegtabit discuss before an interview in their hotel room in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, Monday, March 16, 2015 while attending a U.N. conference on disaster risk reduction. The Pacific island nation of Vanuatu has lost years of development progress and must "start over" following a powerful cyclone that destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings on the main island of Port Vila, the country's president said Monday. (AP Photo/Koji Ueda)
Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale speaks during an interview in his hotel room in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, Monday, March 16, 2015 while attending a U.N. conference on disaster risk reduction. The Pacific island nation of Vanuatu has lost years of development progress and must "start over" following a powerful cyclone that destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings on the main island of Port Vila, the country's president said Monday. (AP Photo/Koji Ueda)
PORT VILA, VANUATU - MARCH 15: This handout image provided by UNICEF, shows Teouma bridge affected by storm damage on March 15, 2015 in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Cyclone Pam is pounding South Pacific islands with hurricane force winds, huge ocean swells and flash flooding. (Photo by UNICEF via Getty Images)
The sea is pictured on March 14, 2015 in the Anse Vata, south of Noumea, New Caledonia. Rain and wind were observed in the island but the Tropical Cyclone Pam had little effect on Noumea. The maximum category five cyclone hit Vanuatu island, 500 km east of New Caledonia, late on March 13 and early indications suggest widespread damage, including in the capital in Port Vila, with fears dozens of people could have died across the country. AFP PHOTO / FRED PAYET (Photo credit should read FRED PAYET/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks near the sea on March 14, 2015 in the Anse Vata, south of Noumea, New Caledonia. Rain and wind were observed in the island but the Tropical Cyclone Pam had little effect on Noumea. The maximum category five cyclone hit Vanuatu island, 500 km east of New Caledonia, late on March 13 and early indications suggest widespread damage, including in the capital in Port Vila, with fears dozens of people could have died across the country. AFP PHOTO / FRED PAYET (Photo credit should read FRED PAYET/AFP/Getty Images)
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - The United Nations reported Monday that 24 people are confirmed dead and 3,300 have been displaced by Cyclone Pam in the South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu.

Radio and telephone communications with outer islands have not yet been established two days after what the country's president called a "monster" storm, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

It said 3,300 people are sheltering in 37 evacuation centers on the main island of Efate and in the provinces of Torba and Penama. "Basic emergency rations are being provided to evacuees, including water, rice, tinned fish or meat, coffee, tea, sugar, Milo, biscuits and other items," the report said.

Military aircraft from New Caledonia, Australia and New Zealand have been conducting aerial assessments of the damage.

The latest report came as Vanuatu's president rushed back to his country, which has repeatedly warned it is already suffering devastating effects from climate change with coastal areas being washed away.

Looking weary and red-eyed, Baldwin Lonsdale told The Associated Press that Cyclone Pam destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings in the capital alone. Lonsdale was interviewed in Sendai, in northeastern Japan, where he had been attending a U.N. disaster conference when the cyclone struck.

"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 a breakdown in communications infrastructure, 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.

Officials in Vanuatu 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. Bridges were down outside the capital, Port Vila, making travel by vehicle impossible even around the main island of Efate.

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."

The damaged 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. Those on the ground pleaded for help to arrive quickly.

The city's hospital was overwhelmed with patients, and some beds were moved outside due to fears the building is no longer safe.

"The wards have all been evacuated because of structural damage," surgeon Richard Leona told Australia's Channel 7. "We are badly needing this help. We need to get an urgent drug supply and food and also set up a mobile hospital to deal with the influx of patients coming in."

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.

Access to food and water is an urgent concern, said Clements, who is in Port Vila. Much of the city's water supply has been tainted, so residents are boiling water to drink.

Clements said she spoke to a woman who is nine months pregnant and lost her home in the storm. The woman's situation, along with many others, is growing desperate, Clements said.

"She has no water, no food, no power," she said. "This is an incredibly dangerous time."

Some commercial flights have resumed, although services are limited. Georgina Roberts, New Zealand's High Commissioner to Vanuatu, said two defense force planes were sent to retrieve about 100 stranded New Zealand tourists.

In Sydney, shaken Australian tourists returning from Vanuatu greeted loved ones with hugs and terrifying tales of the storm's wrath.

"I've never seen or heard anything like that noise," Ralph Scott said after arriving at Sydney's airport. "It was frightening, it was supersonic, it was terrible."

Scott said the aftermath of the storm was "utter devastation."

"Houses, roads washed away," he said. "People walking around like zombies."

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."

Vanuatu has a population of 267,000 people spread over 65 islands. About 47,000 people live in the capital.

Hannington Alatoa, head of the Vanuatu Red Cross Society, said flyovers by New Zealand and Australian relief teams showed much of the country had been "flattened." At least half of the population has been affected, Alatoa said in Sendai.

"No trees, no foliage, no iron structures standing on the western part of Tanna (island)," Alatoa said. "People are in great need of water."

The World Health Organization said it was sending health and emergency response workers and supplies, and coordinating with UNICEF and regional governments.

Scientists say it's impossible to attribute single weather events like Cyclone Pam to climate change.

"Climate change is contributing to the disasters in Vanuatu," President Lonsdale said. "We see the level of sea rise. Change in weather patterns. This year we have heavy rain more than every year."

The cyclone also caused damage to other Pacific islands, including Kiribati and the Solomon Islands. Some homes were evacuated in New Zealand on Monday to escape flooding as the weakening storm moved past North Island.

___

Kurtenbach reported from Sendai, Japan. Associated Press writers Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.


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