ShelterBox is mobilising aid and a Response Team from Australia and New Zealand as the Pacific paradise of Vanuatu counts the awful cost of Cyclone Pam
As news emerges of the scale of devastation caused by one of the worst Pacific storms ever recorded, with many of Vanuatu’s 260,000 population now said to be homeless, emergency shelter experts, ShelterBox have this morning agreed plans for aid distribution with colleague charity CARE International.
The United Nations Humanitarian Office says that on the main island of Efate an estimated 90 per cent of structures are either damaged or destroyed, and thousands of people are sheltering in over 25 evacuation centres across the provinces of Efate, Torba and Penama.
1,000 ShelterBox shelter kits, which will help with repair and waterproofing of damaged buildings, are to be dispatched from storage at Subang Aiport near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The kits, now a standard element of ShelterBox’s range of aid, are designed to Red Cross specifications.
Vanuatu’s key air hub, Bauerfield International Airport near the capital Port Vila, has had its runway cleared of floodwater only a few hours ago. Aid flights from Australia and New Zealand Air Forces are now able to land, although commercial flights remain suspended. ShelterBox response team members Ross Mackenzie from New Zealand and Peter Pearce from Australia are expected to be able to fly to Vanuatu within days to make preparations for ShelterBox aid distribution.
ShelterBox Operational Manager Alf Evans says, ‘We have been in frequent touch with other aid agencies, making clear our willingness and capability to help. Our initial response will see the 1,000 shelter kits deployed from Subang, and distributed with CARE International. Once we have ShelterBox response team members on the ground we will be aiming to make further contributions to partnership work on shelter and repair.’
First images from Port Vila show most buildings to be badly damaged, and a pilot flying over some of Vanuatu’s 65 inhabited islands reported similar scenes of destruction across remote communities. There is a communications blackout beyond Port Vila, so it is hard to assess the extent of damage or the humanitarian need, though aid workers on the ground have already likened it to Typhoon Haiyan that struck the Philippines 16 months ago.
Vanuatu’s President Baldwin Lonsdale, who is in Japan attending a conference on disaster reduction, described the cyclone as a ‘monster’. He thanked the international aid community for their quick response. Many of the country’s essential services, including schools, hospitals and power generation, are in disarray. The confirmed death toll of eight people is expected to rise sharply as rescuers reach outlying communities.
Cyclone Pam is a category five storm, with winds now said to have peaked at 185mph. It veered off its expected course and struck Vanuatu early on Saturday, local time. It is now heading towards New Zealand, and though it has weakened severe weather warnings have been issued.