As it happened: Cyclone Pam devastates Vanuatu

There are unconfirmed reports of dozens dead in Vanuatu’s northern islands after Cyclone Pam, described as the worst cyclone in Pacific history.

The storm is expected to pass east of New Zealand during Monday and Tuesday.

A woman gathers items in Port Vila, Vanuatu in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam

9.40pm:Many residents have been forced to hunker a second night in emergency shelters after venturing out today only to find their homes damaged or blown away, according to aid workers.

Power remains out across the archipelago and people on many of the outer islands have no access to running water or outside communications, says Chloe Morrison, a World Vision emergency communications officer in the capital of Port Vila.

Cyclone Pam tore through the islands early Saturday, leaving a trail of destruction and unconfirmed reports of dozens of deaths.

9.22pm:UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he met the president of Vanuatu this morning and conveyed “our deepest condolences” as well as solidarity with the people of the archipelago.

9.17pm:New Zealand has pledged an initial $1 million to help cyclone-stricken Pacific nations and an RNZAF P3 Orion is in the air assessing the damage.

Cyclone Pam has blown the shutters off this home in Port Vila

8.55pm:A communications blackout is preventing aid workers from assessing the scale of the damage in cyclone-stricken Vanuatu. While the destructive system has knocked out communications in much of the region, there are unconfirmed reports more than 40 people are dead.

“A lot of people would have spent the night in their homes in the hope that everything would be ok, but there has been significant destruction of homes in some areas,” Oxfam country Vanuatu director Colin Collett Van Rooyen told AAP.

“We do know there have been some casualties. We do anticipate that there’ll be higher numbers (of casualties) on remote islands, because they have less sophisticated shelter, but we have no indication of what’s happening there because we have no comms to the islands.”

8.06pm:Australia was preparing to send a crisis response team to Vanuatu if needed, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.

“There are destructive winds, rain, flooding, landslides, sea surges and very rough seas and the storm is exceedingly destructive there,” she said.

“We are still assessing the situation, but we stand ready to assist.”

7.20pm:New Zealand growers prepare: With vegetable harvesting in full swing in Gisborne, growers surrounding the coastal city are working around the clock to get what produce they can out of the ground before Cyclone Pam arrives.

And after what’s been described as a near perfect growing season, Pam’s also causing major concern for grape growers who say disease occurs where berries or vines are wet for a period of time. Around half of this year’s grape crop isn’t ready to come off the vines.

East Coast growers prepare for Cyclone Pam

6.26: Reaction from Kiwis

New Zealander Malcolm Whitlock is hoping the New Zealand Government will help them evacuate from Vanuatu. He came close to losing his life, his home completely destroyed around him.

“It’s just absolutely devastating. It looks like a nuclear bomb has gone off. We are hoping aid arrives and I know the expats I’m with, we just want out,” he says.

Mother of two Sarah Dodd has watched the events unfold from Northland, relieved she evacuated last week with her children. Her husband stayed behind. He’s safe, but now the family has grave concerns for the locals.

“There’s a lot of temporary housing there which is not well built. They’re basically shacks with tin roofs and they would not have lasted in a storm.

5.13:New Zealand Red Cross are loading up 1200 tarps, water containers and all essential first aid kits to send 3000 kilometres away.

Red Cross Supplies head for Vanuatu

5.00:World Vision Vanuatu’s communications officer Chloe Morrison says there is no running water in the capital and that communication remains unreliable.

“It’s still really quite dangerous outside. Most people are still hunkering down,” she said. “The damage is quite extensive in Port Vila but there are so many more vulnerable islands. I can’t even imagine what it’s like in those vulnerable communities.”

4.19:An aid agency manager says homes were blown to pieces, evacuation centres flooded and numerous people injured as Cyclone Pam devastated parts of Vanuatu. As humanitarian agency workers make their way to the outskirts of the capital Port Vila, it’s clear that the cyclone has hit Vanuatu with devastating force.

Care International program manager Charlie Damon says from Port Villa: “If this is the level of impact in communities where emergency shelters were an option, we are deeply concerned about what has happened in remote communities without them.”
3.27pm:Power lines are down and communications are limited but UNICEF Pacific Communications Specialist Alice Clements, a New Zealander, says from her Port Vila base, “It is clear that the full force of Super Cyclone Pam is dramatically worse than had been initially predicted. This will most certainly be a catastrophe for the people of Vanuatu.

“I saw the sliding doors from my three storey hotel room completely blow away – it was terrifying.

“We have some very unconfirmed reports of casualties from the outer islands as well but we’re waiting to get official confirmation on those, which is very sad news if it’s true.”

3.13:Ms Morrison says the deadly storm has wrought catastrophic damage.
She spent a terrifying night bunkered down in a house in Port Vila with her co-workers.
“There are reports from our other colleagues of entire villages being literally blown away overnight,” she told AAP. “Local houses and leaf huts would have been picked up like confetti last night.”

2.49pm:Witnesses say whole towns in Vanuatu have been “literally blown away” by the destructive force of Cyclone Pam.

The United Nations is investigating unconfirmed reports 44 people died in the northeast Penama Province after the category five storm made landfall. It brought winds of more than 250 kilometres an hour as it slammed into the island.

Cyclone Pam’s devastation in Vanuatu

1:53pm:World Vision staff in Vanuatu endured an evening of terrifying winds and uncertainty as cyclone Pam thrashed the capital.

“Cyclone shutters rattling, things flying into the roof. I’m yet to decide if you can’t see what’s going on outside is a blessing or curse. Phone lines are up but it is still too dangerous to go outside,” said Ms Morrison.

12:59pm:Expat Kiwi Stuart Beren has told ONE News houses have been destroyed and trees uprooted in Port Vila.

“It’s just obliteration effectively….I’d be shocked if there aren’t significant casualties.”

11:16am:Gisborne District Council has set up an emergency operation centre in preparation for cyclone Pam.

10:43am:Hurricane-force winds ripped the shutters from this house in Port Vila.

9:55am:MetService says they are still not sure how close the eye of the storm will come to the North Island, however, there’s likely to be a “significant event”. Strong winds and rain is expected to hit much of the North Island late Sunday and Monday.

Debris is scattered over a building in Port Vila

9:06am:Hurricane-force winds are expected to continue to batter Vanuatu as the storm moves past in the next six to 12 hours, according to the Vanuatu Meteorological Service.

8:29am:The aftermath of Cyclone Pam in Port Vila.

7:51am:Australian tourist Kris Paras could hear Cyclone Pam from her hotel bathroom as she waited for the storm’s eye to hit.

“It sounds like a relentless freight train,” she said last night. “Floor is shaking a bit.”

7:40am:The UN’s relief agency says the death toll could run into the dozens.

“The immediate concern is for a very high death toll but also an enormous amount of destruction and devastation,” Sune Gudnitz, regional director for the UNOCHA, told Reuters.

7:30am:Tourists ride out the storm at the Holiday Inn in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

7:25am:There are unconfirmed reports that 44 people had died in Penama province in the north-east of Vanuata, the UNOCHA said in a statement on Friday, according to Reuters.