Help begins to trickle in for thousands on Pacific islands
A CAPE Town father told yesterday how a Pacific island nation looked like someone dropped a bomb on it after it was devastated by a monster storm with winds of up to 320km/h which caused entire villages to be blown away.
Authorities declared a state of emergency across the nation of Vanuatu as relief agencies scrambled to get help.
The official death toll in the capital Port Vila stood at six yesterday, although aid workers said this was probably just a fraction of the fatalities nationwide.
Communications were still down across most of the archipelago’s 80 islands, although Air Vanuatu said the airport in the capital of Port Vila had reopened.
The government said it was still trying to assess the scale of the disaster unleashed when Super Cyclone Pam, a maximum category five system, vented its fury on Friday night and into Saturday, with winds reaching 320km/h.
The UN had unconfirmed reports that the cyclone had killed 44 people in one province alone and Oxfam said the destruction in Port Vila was massive, with 90% of homes damaged.
However, as the super-cyclone tore through the island nation, the Jenkin children were fast asleep.
On Saturday morning, their Cape Town-born father, Justin Jenkin, took Thomas, 8, Maya, 5 and one-year-old David outside – one by one – to show them the flattened landscape.
“It looks like someone dropped a bomb on the island. There is complete devastation everywhere you look,” Jenkin said yesterday.
Their house, built to withstand the weather and according to the building regulations, survived the storm. But 90% of the homes on Efate island, on which the Jenkin family live, were destroyed.
As well as flattening and blowing away homes, the cyclone smashed boats and washed away roads and bridges.
Aid workers described the situation as catastrophic.
Vanuatu’s cluster of 83 islands, situated 2 000km northeast of the Australian city of Brisbane, is home to 260 000 people.
Jenkin said: “The whole thing lasted 14 hours. The worst of it was at midnight. We were in a strong part of the house at that time. I moved our sleeping kids to the bathroom which is surrounded by reinforced concrete walls. “That was our bunker. “Most people have nothing left – only the concrete slabs on which their homes were built. They are picking up the pieces, salvaging what they can.” Jenkin said it would take six months to a year to get the island back to where it was.
“There is no power, no fuel, no running water. People on the island live off their gardens. But gardens have been flattened.
“There are pawpaws and bananas lying everywhere. Everything above the ground has been shredded. People will have to dig for roots. We’ve been into the garden to harvest everything. We’ll eat this first, before we start eating other stuff.”
Jenkin said there were about 25 South Africans living in Vanuatu.
“I think everyone is OK. We’ve been in touch with a few families.”
Jenkin, who runs a boat yard and services super yachts, expects to be fixing battered vessels over the next few months depending on insurance payouts.
Oxfam Vanuatu director Colin Collet van Rooyen said: “This is likely to be one of the worst disasters ever seen in the Pacific.
“The scale of humanitarian need will be enormous … entire communities have been blown away. People have completely amazed me. I’ve seen people walk away from totally destroyed houses and help others,” he said. Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale described the storm as a monster that had devastated the country.
Save the Children’s head of humanitarian response Nichola Krey raised fears of food shortages in the subsistence economy and said conditions in evacuation centres were challenging.
“Many of the evacuation centres have lots of women and young children sleeping cheek-by-jowl, so health and protection will by key,” she said.
Another official said the hospital had also been flooded and most of its medical supplies were compromised.
Despite the problems, relief began to trickle in yesterday.
An Australian Air Force plane landed with supplies of food, shelter and medicine, while a New Zealand plane also flew in supplies.
– Jackie May and Joshua Kuku