Vanuatu president: Storm-wrecked country must 'start anew'

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Vanuatu president: Storm-wrecked country must 'start anew'
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.
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)
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)
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 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.
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)
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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SENDAI, Japan (AP) - The Pacific island nation of Vanuatu has lost years of development progress and must "start anew" following a powerful cyclone that destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings in the capital of Port Vila, the country's president said Monday.

Baldwin Lonsdale, visibly weary and red eyed from lack of sleep, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he and other top government officials were preparing to return home later Monday from Sendai, in northeastern Japan, where they were attending a disaster conference.

Australia, which along with New Zealand and France is providing rescue and relief help, offered transport from Sydney to Port Vila, his staff said.

Lonsdale said that the limited information he was able to get from home showed six people confirmed dead, and 30 injured and hospitalized on Port Vila after the category 5 typhoon smashed across the Vanuatu archipelago.

He said information from other islands was not available because most communication links were still not working. But the airport in Port Vila has reopened, allowing aid and relief flights to reach the country. Port Vila is on the country's main island of Efate.

"This is a very devastating cyclone in Vanuatu. I term it as a monster, a monster. 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."

"So it means we will have to start anew again," Lonsdale said.

He appealed for humanitarian aid for the homeland he called "paradise on Earth."

"Tarpaulins, water containers, medical needs, gathering tools, construction tools, all these are very important right now," Lonsdale said.

Aerial surveillance Sunday showed some communities flattened, the head of the Vanuatu Red Cross Society, Hannington Alatoa, said. Lonsdale said 1,000 people in Port Vila alone have been evacuated, while aid personnel from Australia, France, and New Zealand have arrived to assess the damage.

Lonsdale said early warning systems and preparations in advance of the storm likely kept casualties to a minimum.

The leaders from Vanuatu found a receptive audience in Sendai, where the United Nations is working to craft a new framework for disaster risk reduction. Talks on an agreement have proven more difficult than expected, those involved say, because of issues largely related to financing and responsibility-sharing between developing and wealthy nations.

Japan convened the conference in Sendai to highlight progress in recovery and reconstruction following a massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that struck its northeastern coast in March 2011, killing more than 18,500 people.

But Lonsdale said the timing of the storm, which has put Vanuatu's plight in the spotlight, was a "wonder."

"It is a miracle that we are here during this conference," he said. "This conference is about disaster risk reduction. What is happening in Vanuatu is the reality. The reality of what is happening right now."

Although communications have been partially restored in Vanuatu, Lonsdale and other officials said they had not yet been able to contact their own families.

"We do not know if our families are safe or not," he said. "As the leader of the nation, my whole heart is for the people, the nation."

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Associated Press writers Miki Toda and Koji Ueda contributed to this report.

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