Cyclone Pam is being described as perhaps the worst cyclone in the history of the Pacific, and it slammed directly into the tiny South Pacific archipelago Vanuatu, killing at least eight people. There are unconfirmed reports of dozens of deaths. Relief workers reported “unbelievable destruction” on Saturday, reports CNN, citing the Australian Red Cross. Earlier, the Australian branch of UNICEF had reported that the cyclone was “much bigger than expected.”
Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale called for international assistance. “I stand to appeal on behalf of the government and the people of Vanuatu that the global community give a lending hand in responding to these very current calamities … that have struck us,” he said, according to the BBC.
The powerful cyclone contained winds of 168 miles per hour, according to the Associated Press. “I can say that for anybody who wasn’t in a secure shelter last night, it would have been a very, very tough time for them,” an aid worker said. Approximately 267,000 people live in Vanuatu’s 65 islands, about 47,000 of them in the capital, Port Vila.
“It’s like a bomb has gone off in the center of the town,” said Alice Clements, a UNICEF spokeswoman said, according to the New York Times. “This will most certainly be a catastrophe for the people of Vanuatu.” It will likely be several days before the full extent of destruction is known, particularly considering communications are down across many of the islands. “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,” an aid worker said.