Vanuatu: Body in main street, scenes of destruction

A CORPSE in the main street, another floating in the harbour, reports of dozens dead elsewhere, and buildings and whole villages blasted into pieces.

These were some of the scenes, as described by Fairfax, that greeted dazed Vanuatu residents and tourists on Sunday as the rescue effort and clean-up started in the tiny Pacific island nation which was devastated by Cyclone Pam.

The monster category-5 storm, which brought wind gusts of 300km/h, has weakened to a category-3 cyclone as it heads towards New Zealand's North Island.

On Sunday, the country's National Disaster Management Office reported at least eight people were confirmed dead and 20 had suffered serious injuries.

But the death and injury toll was expected to rise as search and rescue efforts ramp up. The first flights bringing outside aid landed at the newly cleared airport near the capital Port Vila about midday on Sunday.

Unconfirmed reports were circulating of more than 40 people killed in northern Penama province, according to the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the Pacific. The province is about 120 kilometres from Port Vila.

RELATED: Aussie families face anxious wait for details


Australians and New Zealanders in Vanuatu have been drafted in to help at the capital's main hospital after it was ravaged by Cyclone Pam.

The Pacific island nation's medical services were in tatters last night.

Only the new wing of the Central Hospital in Port Vila was operating after the old wing was severely damaged by the tropical storm which smashed through the South Pacific archipelago overnight on Friday.

There were reports the roof had been blown off the hospital, while others described it as being "pretty much under water".

It's understood the hospital normally treats about 300 people a day but that dropped to 80 yesterday as very few people were able to get past blocked roads.

New Zealand and Australian holidaymakers and expats in Port Vila were yesterday asked to help with recovery efforts to get the hospital back up and running.

Auckland woman Rachel and her husband Metin said staff from the Australian High Commission visited the Holiday Inn where they were staying asking for volunteers.

"[The hospital has] got two different parts - one part's new and that part's still standing so all the emergency triage stuff is happening there. The entire rest of the hospital is pretty much under water," Rachel said.

The couple were among many people sheltering at the hotel who put their hands up to help.

"They need volunteers to just try and help clear it up and clean it up, because once they do get the roads open this is the only hospital on the island, so they're just going to get inundated and they need to try and have somewhere to put people."

Medical facilities across the island have been stretched since the storm.

One local family, who had a terrifying dash to the hospital with a mother and newborn baby after she developed heavy post-partum bleeding, were among dozens of patients left to fend for themselves in the aftermath of the storm, as large trees and other debris blocked roads and hospital access.

Ambulance crews were unable to get through the debris to help the new mother. Paramedic Charlotte Gillan, from the Vanuatu Emergency Medical Services Association, said the woman's father called the service to get help for his daughter after the birth early yesterday morning.

"The baby was fine but the mother was hemorrhaging." she said. "They were from Efate and in the end had to transport themselves."

Ms Gillan said there was debris everywhere, making it extremely difficult to get around. One of the main bridges was blocked, reducing access to the eastern side of the island. "It's just all over the place here," she said.

The service, which still had some water and a generator for power, had received numerous calls for help, including some who had walked into the medical centre. Some of those were children experiencing asthma from the dust, and others people with traumatic injuries.

Teams had been sent out with a chainsaw to help clear the road, but the service was trying to keep its stretcher team on stand-by for emergencies, Ms Gillan said.

One doctor had opened his practice without power, so he could offer basic first aid, but not x-rays or ultrasounds, Ms Gillan said.

Kiwi sailor missing

Anxiety is building over Vanuatu charter boat operator Simon Hamer, whose Tauranga-based family has not heard from him since Cyclone Pam hit. "Let's hope he's okay," wife Corrine Hamer said yesterday.

Mrs Hamer last spoke to her husband on Thursday and was holding on to the hope that he survived by weathering the storm in a concrete house in a village near where their catamaran, South Sea Vagabond, was dragged ashore.

"I am feeling anxious, wondering what is going to happen next."

Her phone has rung non-stop from friends and family wondering if he has contacted her. Mrs Hamer said she was a bit surprised to have not heard any news yet. "If he was okay he would be trying to contact us."

She was amazed that Vanuatu's main newspaper had downplayed Cyclone Pam, publishing a front page story on Thursday that it was a tropical low that posed no threat. "Even on the radio, they were saying, 'If you pray, it will go away'."

Mrs Hamer said Simon responded to the news media by showing people the weather page on the internet in an effort to convince them that a huge cyclone was on its way.

Even debris blown away

Grants officer Chloe Morrison said it was an "absolutely devastating sight" in Port Vila.

"Whole villages have been blown away. The homes have been absolutely, completely flattened, they're just piles of timber, and sometimes not even that. They just are totally decimated. The wind was so strong they just blew away huge chunks of debris. We're seeing a lot of debris."

"Vanuatu is one of the most disaster prone areas in the world - typhoons, earthquakes, and tsunamis - and yet this still shocked them. But there was also relief for the people I spoke with. They've lost everything - their home and everything in it - but they're just relieved they're okay."

$125 FLIGHTS: 'Community fare' promised for Gladstone

$125 FLIGHTS: 'Community fare' promised for Gladstone

Airliner promises to tackle affordability concerns.

Catastrophic towing accident for CQ Ergon general manager

Catastrophic towing accident for CQ Ergon general manager

The tow hitch struck Mr Leighton through the back of his seat

Court orders probation for man who accepted stolen rifles

Court orders probation for man who accepted stolen rifles

The 25-year-old moved to Gladstone to escape 'bad people' in NQ.

Local Partners