Updated at 2:38 p.m. EDT: The U.N. Disaster Assessment and Coordination team in Vanuatu said 24 people are confirmed dead and 3,300 are displaced from their homes.
Cyclone Pam, with winds of more than 185 mph, flattened homes, washed out roads and knocked out power to the South Pacific islands of Vanuatu over the weekend, and relief organizations were rushing to respond on Monday.
Eight people were reported dead, but authorities feared the number would grow as more rescuers searched the islands. About 10,000 people had to evacuate to storm shelters.
It was the strongest storm to make landfall since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013.
Military flights from Australia and New Zealand were bringing water, sanitation kits and shelters to the islands. Relief organizations, including Stamford, Connecticut-based AmeriCares, also were mobilizing supplies and medical volunteers from NYC Medics to help.
“With 65 inhabited islands, it’s a real challenge getting supplies to where they’re most needed,” said Garrett Ingoglia, vice president of AmeriCares’ emergency response. “Typhoon Haiyan was challenging because it hit a whole series of islands. But this is even more challenging with less infrastructure and more islands, and [a greater percentage] of the population affected.”
The medics and supply teams were planning to fly to Brisbane, Australia, and figure out how to get to the islands from there, he said. They were bringing medications such as pain killers and antibiotics to help with injuries and prevent water-borne diseases.
Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale said the cyclone had destroyed or damaged more than 90 percent of the buildings and homes in the capital Port Vila. “I term it as a monster, a monster,” he told the Associated Press. “After all the development that has taken place, all this development has been wiped out. So it means we will have to start anew again.”
A satellite image from NASA shows the scope of Cyclone Pam as it was heading southwest on March 13 before it flooded the Vanuatu islands.
It was “an unusually busy week” for massive storms in the Pacific Ocean near Australia, according to NASA. The satellite image below shows three of the storms: Pam, Nathan and Olwyn.
Vanuatu gained its independence from the British and French in 1980. The archipelago has a population of about 267,000 and derives revenues mostly from small-scale agriculture, fishing and tourism.