Relief groups rush aid to Vanuatu's cyclone-stricken islands

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Relief groups rush aid to Vanuatu's cyclone-stricken islands
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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PORT VILA, Vanuatu (AP) -- Relief workers rushed to deliver desperately needed food and water Wednesday to survivors living on Vanuatu's outer islands, after a monstrous cyclone wiped out entire villages and flattened vast swathes of the South Pacific nation's landscape.

Teams of aid workers and government officials were planning to send a boat packed with supplies to hard-hit Tanna Island, where aerial assessments showed more than 80 percent of homes or buildings had been partially or completely destroyed by Cyclone Pam.

Lack of food was a growing worry for those who survived the storm, which packed winds of 270 kilometers (168 miles) per hour when it struck Saturday.

"Everyone in Tanna and other islands in the south, they really live subsistence lives, so they grow what they need for a short period. ... And the reality is that much of that would have been washed away by this storm," said Tom Perry, spokesman for CARE Australia. "That's a grave concern because we desperately need to get food to people soon."

Flyover crews who surveyed the outer islands saw a flattened landscape and widespread destruction, with survivors below trying to signal them for help, said Colin Collett van Rooyen, Vanuatu director for aid group Oxfam.

Teams of aid workers and government officials carrying medical and sanitation supplies, water, food and shelter equipment finally managed to land on Tanna and neighboring Erromango Island on Tuesday, after being stymied in their efforts for days by poor weather and a breakdown in the nation's communications networks. The two islands were directly in the path of the storm.

An aerial assessment showed extensive damage on Erromango, with communities ranging from 70 percent to 100 percent destroyed on the archipelago's fourth-largest island. On other islands, Collett van Rooyen said plane crews saw people had made big, white "H'' marks on the ground in multiple villages, and people on Tongoa island flashed mirrors to attract attention.

Radio and telephone communications with the outer islands were just beginning to be restored, but remained very patchy four days after Cyclone Pam tore through the island.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 11 people were confirmed dead, including five on Tanna, lowering their earlier report of 24 casualties after realizing some of the victims had been counted more than once. Officials with the National Disaster Management Office said they had no accurate figures on how many were dead, and aid agencies reported varying numbers.

The confusion reflects the difficulty of handling a disaster that struck whole communities on remote islands with a near-total communications blackout.

"Vanuatu is a challenging place at the best of times, in the sense of getting around and logistics," Perry said. "So a situation like this is pretty testing."

Baldwin Lonsdale, Vanuatu's president, returned to his country on Tuesday night from Japan, where had been attending a U.N. disaster conference when the cyclone struck.

"I trust the people of Vanuatu. I trust my government. I trust the people that they will stand united together as a nation and to rebuild the nation," he said.

Poor weather and communications issues have hampered relief workers efforts to reach the outer islands for days. Most of the islands have no airports and those that do have only small landing strips that are tricky for large supply planes to navigate. On the main island of Efate, bridges were down outside Port Vila, impeding vehicle traffic.

"There are over 80 islands that make up Vanuatu and on a good, sunny day outside of cyclone season it's difficult to get to many of them," said Collett van Rooyen of Oxfam.

The destruction on Tanna was significantly worse than in the nation's capital of Port Vila, where Pam destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings, said Perry of CARE Australia.

"The airport was badly damaged, the hospital was badly damaged but still functioning ... there's one doctor there at the moment," he said. "It's obviously a pretty trying situation."

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

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said 3,300 people were sheltering in dozens of evacuation centers on the main island of Efate and in the provinces of Torba and Penama.

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