IOM Joins Response to Cyclone Pam Devastation in Vanuatu

Vanuatu - An IOM team was dispatched to assist the office it operates in Vanuatu in the wake of a category 5 tropical cyclone, Cyclone Pam, which struck the 65-island Pacific Archipelago, including its capital of Port Vila, On Thursday 12 March. IOM is working in close coordination with the Government of Vanuatu and the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) emergency response group.

IOM’s Director General, William Lacy Swing, immediately released a USD 100,000 grant from IOM’s Migration Emergency Funding Mechanism. The outlay will pay for hygiene kits and shelter materials for the most vulnerable islanders focusing on those currently within evacuation centers. The number of deaths is likely to increase due to flash floods, as well as the high winds which hit less accessible parts of the island.

On Monday, IOM spokesperson Joe Lowry reported from Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila that hundreds of tourists were leaving, just as dozens of humanitarian workers were arriving, and residents are clearing away debris in the wake of the destructive cyclone which passed close to this city of 45,000 on Friday.

“The city was spared catastrophic damage,” Lowry said. “But there are fears that outlying parts of the archipelago have been devastated.” Assessment flights are to begin Tuesday, local time, he added.

At the main airport this morning, as a flight arrived carrying humanitarian workers from IOM, the UN and international NGOs, and aid from the Australian Government, Sydney resident Adam Fettle was waiting with his family. He’d come for a wedding but ended up facing sheer terror.

“It was vicious,” he said. “Luckily, we were well warned in advance and our hotel made sure we got to a good evacuation shelter.”

Perth resident Debbie Johnson was at the same wedding. “When we came out of the shelter we could see our hotel was really in a mess,” she said. Melissa Ready added that generator power and water were quickly restored, and in general she felt that warnings had been sufficient.

Local people didn’t have it quite as easy.

Artist-cum-driver Jean-Claude Garage, 49, rode out the storm in his wooden house on a steep hillside on the edge of the capital. “My wife and children went to her office as it seemed safer but I wanted to stay in my house,” he said. “But at about 10pm we lost communication and I didn’t want to try joining them because the wind was so strong I feared I would die if I went out,” he explained. “When we met again the next morning it was very joyful, very emotional.”

Garage’s two young children, Yodel, 7, and Yolinda, 9, handled things well, he added. “I am actually glad that they went through a cyclone. I survived a big one in 1987; it’s good for children to understand what a cyclone is.”

“With an estimated population of 260,000 people, many of whom are living close to poverty levels, the widespread destruction of housing has left many people in need of emergency shelter,” reported Brian Kelly, IOM’s Emergency and Post-Crisis Advisor who is coordinating the agency’s emergency response.

“As more parts of the country become accessible the scale of the devastation and its impact on the people of Vanuatu is becoming clearer. IOM is partnering with the government and humanitarian actors to get immediate assistance out to the people currently in over 25 evacuation centers as they deal with the horrible reality that their homes have been destroyed.”

According to the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), Cyclone Pam has caused widespread, severe damage and loss of life through the country, particularly in the Central and Southern regions, which experienced a direct hit.

So far 24 fatalities have been confirmed but the number of deaths is likely to increase significantly due to flash floods, as well as the high winds which hit the island. About 3,300 people are reportedly displaced and are sheltering in 37 evacuation centres in Torba and Penama Provinces, and the main island of Efate.

The number of injuries remains unknown three days after the storm made landfall. The main hospital in Port Vila is badly damaged. Water borne diseases are a concern.

A state of emergency has been declared for Shefa Province. This is likely to be extended to Tafea and other provinces as information comes in. Phone and communication networks throughout the country are mostly down – there appears to be greater than 80 per cent damage to power lines and this will not be fully restored for several weeks – severely limiting the ability to get reports and information from the many affected islands.

IOM plans on providing Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) support in coordination with the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) in assessing needs and coordinating assistance to persons in evacuation centers. Initial numbers indicate up to 4,000 persons have taken shelter in evacuation centers across Vanuatu with 1,000 in the capital Port Vila, a city of 45,000.

While many people stayed in their homes in Port Vila, many more went to evacuation centers run by the National Disaster Management Organization, who will be the main partner for IOM and others as the response operation comes on line.

For further information please contact

Dr. Lesi Korovavala
IOM Vanuatu
Tel: +678 595-5049
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Brian Kelly
Mobile +66 81 832 6802
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Joe Lowry
IOM Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Tel: +66 818 708081


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