First aid teams reach Vanuatu, find widespread devastation

First aid teams reach Vanuatu, find widespread devastation

SYDNEY - The first aid teams to reach Vanuatu reported widespread devastation on Sunday as authorities declared a state of emergency after a "monster" cyclone tore through the vulnerable Pacific island nation.

With winds of more than 300 kph (185 mph), Cyclone Pam razed homes, smashed boats and washed away roads and bridges as it struck late on Friday and into Saturday. Aid workers described the situation as catastrophic.

The count of confirmed deaths was at 10 with 30 people injured. But those numbers were almost certain to rise as rescuers reached the low-lying archipelago's outlying islands.

Aid workers were particularly worried about the southern island of Tanna. An official with the Australian Red Cross told Reuters an aircraft had managed to land there and confirmed "widespread destruction".

"Virtually every building that is not concrete has been flattened," said the official, adding two deaths had been confirmed on the island which has a population of about 29,000 and is about 200 km (125 miles) south of the capital, Port Vila.

Witnesses in Port Vila described sea surges of up to eight metres (26 feet) and widespread flooding as the category 5 cyclone hit. Residents said the storm sounded like a freight train. Port Vila was strewn with debris and looked as if a bomb had gone off.

President Baldwin Lonsdale, who happened to be at a disaster risk conference in Japan, likened the storm to a monster.

"Most of the houses in Vila ... have been damaged and destroyed. People are finding shelter where they can live for the night," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

He said the impact would be "the very, very, very worst" in isolated outer islands but held out hope the number of casualties would be "minor".

He said offers of aid had been "very magnanimous".

"We are not begging, but we are asking for assistance."

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