March 2015 – VANUATU – Two days after the vicious Cyclone Pam lashed the tiny island country of Vanuatu, residents are beginning the brutal business of accounting for its causes and costs. In Port Vila, the capital, homes were flattened like so many cardboard boxes. Bridges collapsed and power lines are down, possibly for days or even weeks. “It looks like the town center has been hit by a bomb,” one aid worker told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Viewed from above, the once lush, green group of islands is now a mess of muddy brown: “It doesn’t look like the Vanuatu I remember,” Hanna Butler, a spokeswoman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a phone interview after flying in on Monday.
And from the islands to the south, home to more than 30,000 people, there is only silence. Lines of communication from those areas have been severed since the storm made landfall Friday night. On a Facebook page set up to connect residents with missing loved ones, pictures of smiling people are accompanied by pleas for help in finding them. As of early Monday morning, six people were confirmed dead and 90 percent of homes reported damaged because of the catastrophic Category 5 storm — but those numbers came only from Port Vila. Aid workers, who first reached the country on Sunday said it will take weeks to account for the storm’s devastation and that the final death toll will likely be much higher.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that we are now dealing with worse than the worst case scenario in Vanuatu,” Oxfam Executive Director Helen Szoke said in a statement on Sunday. “We hold grave fears for the people on these outer and remote islands.” In an emotional interview with the Associated Press on Monday, Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale called the storm a “monster.” “It’s a setback for the government and for the people of Vanuatu,” he said. “After all the development that has taken place, all this development has been wiped out.” Lonsdale spoke from Sendai, Japan, where he’d been attending a United Nations conference on disaster risk reduction when the cyclone hit. The news of the storm cast the significance of the meeting into sharp relief.
“This conference is about disaster risk reduction. What is happening in Vanuatu is the reality,” he said, adding: “Climate change is contributing to the disasters in Vanuatu.” Lonsdale’s statements were echoed by Anote Tong, president of nearby Kiribati, also affected by the storm. “For leaders of low-lying island atolls, the hazards of global warming affect our people in different ways, and it is a catastrophe that impinges on our rights … and our survival into the future,” he said in a speech at the United Nations conference on Sunday. “There will be a time when the waters will not recede.” –Washington Post