From the air the island of Tanna looks like a desert. As we land we can see the exposed A-frame of the airport building where the iron has been torn off, landing in a crumpled heap nearby.
We are one of the first planes into Tanna, in Vanuatu's remote south. Waiting for me at the airport is New Zealander Andrew Finlay, who helped local people set up the NGO Nasi Tuan, affiliated to Tear Fund, and has lived on the island previously for around two years. He has a quad bike, and as the sun sets we drive through the broken forest to Middle Bush, where Nasi Tuan is based.
It is a grim ride. Finlay has no idea if his friends are alive or dead. The first houses we pass are completely flattened and do not look like anyone could survive inside. Some are gone altogether, just bare patches of dirt on the ground.
But then as we round a hill, a group of children hear the bike and come running. A grinning man strides from a building with no door. It is Jeffrey Lahva, Nasi Tuan's general manager. We are the first people they've seen from outside since the storm. He tells us how they escaped the terrible cyclone by huddling together in a squat concrete building and praying for survival. "It was so frightening," he said. "The wind just came from every direction. We thought we would die."
The destruction is wholesale. Not one house is left untouched. One of the worst hit is a widow named Lele, whose newly-built guest house is destroyed.
"I make it to try to help my kids get education," she said.
"And I tried my hardest to make my house strong. But other families have husbands and I am just a woman. I tell my kids, 'I'm sorry you have no daddy'. I am very very sad."
As we leave, the pastor gives us a chicken. We strap it to the front of the bike and continue in the dark. Soon, the road is blocked by a tree. A man comes towards us. It is Frank, a Nasi Tuan employee. We give his wife a chicken and turn on headlights and follow him through the mess of downed branches and trees, to Loahau. Finlay is overjoyed to see his friends. In Bislama, he repeats over and over how surprised he is that no one was killed.
Pastor Isaiah Iokaim says two things saved them. First, the fact that the storm was during the day and people could see enough to run. Secondly, information from Finlay in New Zealand. The local people were reluctant to listen to weather reports, instead slaughtering goats and pigs to give to the chiefs in the belief they had the power to stop the storm.
"But I told them, 'Andrew tells me it's going to be bad'. So we took the solar panels off the roof and boarded everything up and then the people listened."
Some buildings in the village are okay. The church. Some aid-built structures. The Nasi Tuan office. Surprisingly, two 6000-litre water tanks have been thrown 50m and survived, although one has landed in a piece of taboo ground and the villagers have so far refused to get it back.
Everything else is flattened. Coffee plants, gardens, houses, kitchens. All the fruit has fallen from the trees. At the local school, four buildings are nothing but rubble, including a classroom built with New Zealand aid funding.
Principal Tuman Tao says 100 people sheltered in the remaining classroom while the storm raged. "There wasn't room to sit or lie down. We just had to stand the whole time."
A lack of housing means people are now sleeping as many as 50 to a room.
At the airport again, after a night on the floor of the office, flights are packed. My charter is too full and I begin to contemplate sleeping at the airport. Then, a Royal New Zealand Air Force plane roars in, packed with aid, and also the Vanuatu Prime Minister Joe Natuman. He looks around Tanna briefly and says he is saddened by what he's seen.
He says the first priority is shelter and water, and then food, although he has confidence in the people.
"They are very resilient there."
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