World Vision reaches remote island in Vanuatu, finds “utter devastation”

PORT VILA, Vanuatu --  As aid agencies begin to gain access to Vanuatu’s outer islands, the full extent of the damage from Cyclone Pam is becoming clearer. World Vision’s emergency team chartered a flight to Tanna Island on Tuesday to assess the situation there and begin its first distribution of emergency supplies. The island is located in Tafea Province, south-east of the capital, Port Vila, and it is one of the more remote islands in the archipelago, only accessible by boat.

“It was a scene of utter destruction... Just severe devastation everywhere you looked.”

“It was a scene of utter destruction,” said Mike Wolfe, World Vision’s National Director in Vanuatu. “Just severe devastation everywhere you looked. The trees were stripped bare, broken branches everywhere, and many of the homes we saw were completely destroyed.”

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Yesterday, WV was the first NGO to reach Tanna using a chartered flight. The Category 5 cyclone slammed into Vanuatu earlier this week. The most urgent needs right now are food, water, and shelter. The organisation plans to return to Tanna Island Tuesday to continue its emergency response work. A team also distributed temporary shelter materials, cooking utensils, and hygiene kits to 810 people in Port Vila.

According to the latest report from the United Nations, there are now 24 confirmed fatalities, though the toll is likely to rise as rescue workers make their way to other islands. Some 3,300 people are registered in evacuation centres. Radio and telephone communication with the outer islands is still not possible.

“One of the hardest parts of this response is reaching isolated communities located on incredibly remote islands,” added Wolfe. “It’s not just a matter of reaching each island. Once you reach the island, you have to reach the community. And there are very few proper roads here. Most of them are simple dirt paths that are now muddy, probably covered with downed trees and possibly even washed away in the storm. The logistics of this response are daunting.”

Travel in and out of Vanuatu and around the islands remains incredibly difficult and costly. The Port Vila airport terminal, towers and airfield are badly flooded. The airport, which has been closed to commercial flights since Pam hit Vanuatu, opened to civilian flights yesterday.

Most islands aren’t easily accessible by boat so charter flights need to be booked for travel, assessments, and distribution of relief supplies.

World Vision responders on Santo Island (Sanma Province) found that it had been relatively unscathed by the storm, and electricity is still on throughout the island. World Vision has now been able to make contact with 54 of its 81 staff across the country and continues to work urgently to reach the others.

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