‘How I survived the eye of the storm’

Written By komlim puldel on Minggu, 15 Maret 2015 | 23.08

Aid agencies fear that dozens may have died as terrifying Tropical Cyclone Pam smashed into Vanuatu.

Storm surge ... Trees stripped of leaves and tin ripped from buildings litters the streets of Port Vila. Source: Plan International Australia Source: Supplied

A CURFEW has been declared in Vanuatu after looters ransacked homes and businesses as residents describe a horrific storm and chaotic aftermath.

Police warned that people found on the streets after dark faced being arrested on sight as a state of emergency kicked in, with residents surviving without power and scrambling to find food and petrol.

As international aid and supplies began to arrive, aid workers said at least eight people were confirmed dead after the massive cyclone tore through the tiny South Pacific archipelago.

Among the dead were men believed to have been on yachts in Port Vila's harbour when Cyclone Pam struck, according to officials and locals who spoke to News Corp.

Samantha Johnson, a former Sydney resident who runs a Vanuatu resort, described a scene of widespread devastation.

"We don't have a generator yet. Yesterday, everyone was just walking around in a state of shock trying to asses the damage and trying to get in touch with loved ones to find our how they fared," Ms Johnson said from Port Vila.

Blown away ... as the winds from the extremely powerful cyclone begin to subside widespread destruction is revealed. Picture: AP/UNICEF Pacific, Humans of Vanuatu Source: AP

Emergency response teams are on their way to Vanuatu where dozens are feared dead after Cyclone Pam.

Cyclone Pam hits Vanuatu: Agencies launch appeals for help

Ms Johnson continued: "Today we are in this incredibly distressing situation where none of the shops are open, the banks aren't open, you can't get fuel, you can't get water.

"You do cyclone prep but you never think in your wildest imagination that you're going to get taken out by a plus category five.

"A lot of people are saying it's similar to Tracy — it was Vanuatu's Cyclone Tracy."

Ms Johnson evacuated guests from her Surfside Resort at Pango two days before the cyclone hit.

She saw out the storm at the home of her parents, who have lived in Vanuatu for 40 years. Her sister was there with her children, four months and eight years old.

"It is by far and wide much worse than anything that has been before.

"We were in the really strong part of our house. All of a sudden the roof started to lift and we were like 'OK we've got to get you out of here'.

"Thankfully my father years ago built this old concrete bunker below the house. The boys took us down one by one and put us into the concrete bunker.

"There was so much smashing going on in the house that we had no idea what we were coming back up to.

"There was glass smashed everywhere, but we kept our roof and we were all safe. A lot of people have suffered a lot of devastation."

Her resort was decimated, with a 10m to 12m swell washing over its villas — and there were also signs of looting.

"This afternoon police declared a curfew from 6pm to 6am because there's been some looting and breaking into homes," she said.

"Even down in my resort this morning went six of the doors had been kicked in. It's stuff like that that makes people feel on edge."

A government official told News Corp the curfew was in place from 9pm. The official said yachtsmen were believed to be among those who died in Port Vila. Their bodies have been taken to a mortuary for identification.

"We're trying to get confirmation so we can know whether they are Australian, Americans, British ... we don't know," he said.

Evacuation centres had been set up at a church, community hall, school and sports complex. Water was back on in Port Vila in the afternoon.

Two Australian air force planes landed on Sunday with supplies of food, shelter, and medicine while a New Zealand military aircraft also arrived loaded with eight tonnes of tarpaulins, water containers, chainsaw packs, generators and water.

Commercial flights were scheduled to resume on Monday.

Vanuatu's President Baldwin Lonsdale described the storm as "a monster that has devastated our country", his voice breaking as he described Port Vila's devastation.

"Most of the buildings have been destroyed, many houses have been destroyed, school, health facilities have been destroyed," he told the BBC from Japan, where he was attending a disaster management conference.

Wreckage litters the streets of Port Vila. Picture: UNICEF Source: Supplied

UNICEF spokeswoman Alice Clements said locals endured "15-30 minutes of absolute terror" as the cyclone barrelled into the island.

"People have no water, they have no power, this is a really desperate situation right now. People need help," she told AFP.

World Vision said more than 2000 people had already sought refuge in emergency shelters in the capital Port Vila, but it could take weeks to reach the more remote islands affected.

At this point, no one has heard anything from the outlying islands.

Many residents were forced to hunker a second night in emergency shelters after venturing out on Saturday only to find their homes damaged or blown away, according to aid workers.

The UN had unconfirmed reports of 44 people killed in one province.

"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," said Sune Gudnitz, who heads the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Pacific.

A Red Cross team is flying from Australia to begin to assess damage in the cyclone-ravaged nation. The field assessment team will start looking at the water and sanitisation on Sunday afternoon, as well as accommodation needs following Super Cyclone Pam.

The first members of the Save the Children disaster response team are also due to arrive in the islands on Sunday and the rest will follow early this week.

Alex Mathieson, Oxfam Australia's associate director of international programs and former country director in Vanuatu, said there were "particularly grave fears" for the roughly 33,000 residents living on the outer islands directly in the cyclone's north-to-south path.

"The major thing with the outer islands firstly is getting in contact to understand what has happened," he said.

"People there on the whole live in traditional bamboo housing, and based on previous, much smaller cyclones we have a reasonable guess what that would look like.

"The picture coming out of Vanuatu is massive destruction to housing with even relatively sturdy buildings made of concrete having had their roofs ripped off."

Hit hard ... Yachts damaged in Port Vila, Vanuatu, by the raging winds whipped up by cyclone Pam. Picture: AP/UNICEF Pacific, Humans of Vanuatu Source: AP

Oxfam personnel are on the ground supporting with the overall coordination, with additional humanitarian personnel preparing to travel out today. Mr Mathieson said urgent external assistance would be needed.

"The logistics in Vanuatu are difficult at the best of times. It has small infrastructure and inter-island shipping and air transport is not great. Doing the assessment work and then getting the relief to those outer islands is going to be a major challenge."

The full extent of the damage is unknown, with limited communications in place after Super Cyclone Pam, a maximum category five storm, slammed directly into the island country late Friday with gusts up to 320 kilometres (200 miles) an hour.

The storm crossed the main Vanuatu island, home to more than 65,000 people, and a group of islands further south where 33,000 live after affecting the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu, where there were no reports of fatalities.

Heavy rain, gales and high seas are expected to hit New Zealand from Sunday night and could cause widespread flooding, power cuts and damage.

Northland, Auckland, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne and northern Hawke's Bay are being urged to prepare for the storm. Waves up to seven metres or more could hit from Cape Reinga to Wairarapa.

The front had begun to weaken, but would be an "intense storm with hurricane force winds near the centre" out to midnight Sunday, the MetService says.

Aid agencies were scrambling for information and preparing to send teams to Vanuatu — with a UN disaster assessment and coordination team expected to arrive later today.

"While it is too early to say for certain, early reports are indicating that this weather disaster could potentially be one of the worst in Pacific history," UNICEF New Zealand's executive director Vivien Maidaborn said in a statement.

"The sheer force of the storm combined with communities just not set up to withstand it, could have devastating results for thousands across the region." Aurelia Balpe, head of the Pacific regional office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said there were unconfirmed reports of casualties in the capital Port Vila.

But they had greater fears for outlying southern islands, home to more than 33,000 people, where communication had been cut.

Salvaging what they can ... People scour through debris damaged and flung around in Port Vila. Picture: AP Photo/UNICEF Pacific, Humans of Vanuatu Source: AP

Located about a quarter of the way from Australia to Hawaii, Vanuatu has a population of 267,000 spread over 65 islands. About 47,000 people live in the capital.

The small island nation has repeatedly warned it is already suffering devastating effects from climate change with the island's coastal areas being washed away, forcing resettlement to higher ground and smaller yields on traditional crops.

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

The cyclone has already caused damage to other Pacific Islands including Kiribati and the Solomon Islands. Authorities in New Zealand are preparing for the storm, which is forecast to pass north of the country on Sunday and Monday.

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