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Emergency Aid Rushed to Cyclone-hit Vanuatu


Relief workers are rushing emergency supplies to remote areas in Vanuatu, the South Pacific island nation that was pummeled last week by a powerful cyclone.

Since Cyclone Pam hit last Friday, poor weather and communications issues have hampered aid delivery and prevented authorities from even judging the scale of the disaster.

Aurelia Balpe, who heads the Pacific Office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said Wednesday supplies have begun to reach the most remote areas, including the worst-hit island, Tanna.

"Starting yesterday and really moving much more quickly today, we know that relief supplies are being taken down to Tanna and that assessments are being conducted on the outer islands," Balpe told VOA.

The U.N. humanitarian agency said at least 11 people are confirmed dead, though officials warn that figure could rise. Another 3,300 people are sheltering in evacuation centers.

Gardens damaged, destroyed

In the capital, Port Vila, more than 80 percent of homes were partially or completely destroyed by the cyclone, which hit the island chain with winds of up to 270 kilometers per hour.

Port Vila resident James Yassi said it was the worst cyclone he was witnessed.

"I have lost everything. I have seven gardens. Yeah, everything is damaged," he said.

There have been reports some residents have resorted to drinking seawater. Crews on some assessment flights have witnessed residents signaling for help with mirrors or by forming messages on the ground.

Lack of food is also a growing concern, as the storm destroyed many crops. The issue is particularly important, since many Vanuatu residents live off their own land as subsistence farmers, Balpe said.

"Crops have been damaged by floods and by the strong winds. Banana trees have been destroyed. Coconut trees have been felled. Cabbage, which is a major crop there, has been destroyed. Some people have lost their fishing boats," she said.

Vanuatu, an archipelago of some 80 islands located about 2,200 kilometers off the northeast coast of Australia, is frequently hit by cyclones.