Dozens of people are feared dead in the South Pacific after Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu, the UN’s relief agency says.
Cyclone Pam, a category 5 tropical storm, battered Vanuatu with winds of up to 170mph on March 13.
Authorities on the islands had earlier issued a red alert to residents after the cyclone changed direction and began moving towards populated areas.
Cyclone Pam has already caused major damage on other Pacific islands, including Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.
“The immediate concern is for a very high death toll but also an enormous amount of destruction and devastation,” Sune Gudnitz, regional director for the UNOCHA, told Reuters news agency from nearby Fiji, which is also expecting to be hit by Cyclone Pam.
There were unconfirmed reports that 44 people had died in Penama province in the north-east of Vanuata, the UNOCHA said in a statement on March 13, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, category three Cyclone Olwyn has hit the coast of Western Australia with wind gusts of up to 120mph.
People in the state’s coastal region were warned to move to higher ground to escape dangerous flooding.
Cyclone Pam destroyed homes and flooded crop areas in Kiribati and the Solomon Islands before moving on to Vanuatu and Tuvalu. At least 3,000 households were said to have been affected.
The Vanuatu Meteorological Services (VMS) said it expected torrential rainfall, flash flooding, landslides and storm surges.
All six provinces are under red alert, meaning people are advised to immediately head to shelter.
Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office spokesperson Mishaen Garae Lulu told Radio New Zealand that the government had lost contact with some parts of the northern provinces.
Mishaen Garae Lulu said Cyclone Pam was expected to be worse than Cyclone Uma, which killed 50 people in 1987.
Located about a quarter of the way from Australia to Hawaii, Vanuatu has a population of 267,000 spread over 65 islands. About 47,000 people live in the capital, Port Vila.
[youtube KBYnmxFKxcc 650]