Cylone Pam has left a significant portion of Vanuatu's population homeless, and the majority of buildings in the capital Port Vila have been destroyed, the country's President Baldwin Londsdale told the BBC.
An emotional Londsdale said that in Port Vila “many houses have been destroyed; schools, health facilities have been destroyed.” He added that the cyclone, which he described as a “monster”, had “devastated our country”. Some preliminary estimates suggest that thousands of people may have lost their homes.
At least eight people are known to have been killed when the cyclone struck the tiny nation, which is made up of a series of islands. There are fears however, that the death toll could sharply increase, once communication is reestablished with some of the more remote islands that were affected.
Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office told Reuters that the government still had no word from outside the capital.
“Our communication link is still down,” said Paolo Malatu, a relief official at the office. “We haven’t got any information from outside Port Vila.”
The Australian Red Cross, which has enlisted 200 local volunteers in Vanuatu, said that the humanitarian impact of the cyclone was huge, with thousands of people in urgent need of first aid, shelter, healthcare, clean water and sanitation.
Aid workers are flying to Vanuatu, hoping to arrive on Sunday, but it was unclear whether Port Villa's airport would be able to open to accommodate flights, the Associated Press reported.
Unicef Australia tweeted that as many as 54,000 children in Vanuatu are in need of humanitarian assistance. It added that other Pacific island nations were also affected by the storm, with Tuvalu declaring a state of emergency and Kiribati experiencing flooding.
"The wind outside is terrifying," Michael Wolfe, World Vision's national director in Vanuatu, told CNN, of his experience in the storm. "I can't imagine what it's like for families out there who weren't able to find safe shelter before the storm."
The cyclone lashed Vanuatu with winds of up to 190mph and 9 inches of rain.
Australia has offered assistance and said medical and search and rescue staff were on standby, AFP reported. Financial support offered to Vanuatu has included donations of $2.9m from Britain, $733,750 from New Zealand and $1.05m from the European Union.
Correction: An earlier version of this article cited a BBC report which stated President Lonsdale had said that most of Vanuatu's population were now homeless. The BBC report was later updated to say that many, rather than most of the population had lost their homes. This report has been updated accordingly.