PORT VILA, Vanuatu - Vanuatus'S President pleaded with the world yesterday to help the cyclone-ravaged Pacific nation rebuild its "completely destroyed" infrastructure, as aid agencies warned that conditions were among the most challenging they have faced, with fears of disease rife.
An emotional President Baldwin Lonsdale said the need was "immediate" after Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through the country on Friday night, packing wind gusts of up to 320kmh, leaving massive destruction.
"The humanitarian need is immediate, we need it right now," he told Agence France-Presse before flying home from a disaster conference in Japan, adding that the poverty-stricken island chain also desperately required longer-term financial support.
"After all the development we have done for the last couple of years, and this big cyclone came and just destroyed...all the infrastructure the government has...built. Completely destroyed. We need international funding to (re)build all the infrastructure."
Many world leaders have pledged support, and military planes from Australia, New Zealand and France were arriving loaded with food, shelter, medicine and generators, along with disaster-relief teams.
The official death toll in the battered capital Port Vila - where aid workers said up to 90 per cent of homes have been damaged - stands at six with more than 30 injured. But there are fears that this is likely a fraction of the fatalities caused by the storm. The country has a population of 270,000.
While the aid missions continued landing, workers on the ground said there was no way to distribute desperately needed supplies across the archipelago's 80 islands, warning that it would take days to reach remote villages flattened by the monster storm.
Colin Collett van Rooyen, Oxfam country director in Port Vila, said a lack of clean water, temporary toilets, water purification tablets and hygiene kits needed to be addressed rapidly.
"Friday night was the first emergency with the arrival of Cyclone Pam, disease will be the second emergency without clean water, sanitation and hygiene provision," he said.
"There are more than 100,000 people likely homeless, every school destroyed, full evacuation centres, damage to health facilities and the morgue."
Save the Children's Vanuatu director, Tom Skirrow, told Agence France-Presse that the logistical challenges were even worse than for Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in November 2013, leaving more than 7,350 people dead or missing and ravaging an area as big as Portugal.
"I was present for the Haiyan response and I would 100 per cent tell you that this is a much more difficult logistical problem," he said. "The numbers are smaller but the percentage of the population that's been affected is much bigger."
Pacific nations regard themselves as being at the frontline of climate change, given that many are low-lying islands dangerously exposed to rising sea levels, and Mr Lonsdale said changing weather patterns were partly to blame for the destruction.
"Climate change is contributing to the disaster in Vanuatu," he told reporters in Japan, saying the rain had been unusually heavy this year.
Meanwhile, Singaporean tycoon Ong Beng Seng's Hotel Properties said that its resort - Holiday Inn Resort Vanuatu, located in Port Vila - was damaged by the cyclone. The full extent of the damage to the resort has yet to be established.