A week on from Cyclone Pam, the devastating cyclone that shook Vanuatu "like a giant washing machine" some sense of normality has returned, at least in the capital, Port Vila.

However, Vanuatu's outlying islands are still somewhat of an unknown. Contact has yet to be made with some of the harder-to-reach places and many locals are unaware of their families' well being.

"We are only now getting a full understanding," New Zealand High Commission to Vanuatu Georgina Roberts told the Weekend Herald.

"For any country it would take time to assess the degree of damage. The whole country has been hit - and some of the islands are never particularly easy to get to."


In Port Vila, power is back on in most parts of the CBD. Some hotels have generators and even air conditioning. The privileged - tourists, journalists and aid workers - can shower and eat out at restaurants or bars. Cellphone coverage is working again and even wifi in a few places.

But for most, life is hot, dirty and trying. The roads are busy and lines at petrol stations stretch into the slow-moving traffic.

Most people have no shelter. Most who do have no electricity. Some stay at evacuation centres which boil in the tropical heat. Others bunk down with family or friends.

A curfew is in place, and loud speakers echo through the streets at 6pm. Driving after dark is ill-advised, particularly for outsiders and even more so for females. In the slums, young men lurk smoking marijuana and drinking kava.

Anyone who finds you have been to an outlying island will immediately ask if you've seen their father/sister/mother/cousin as cellphone coverage is yet to reach many people.

Tanna villagers in the Middle Bush area pick through the remains of buidlings destroyed by Cyclone Pam. Photo / Kirsty Johnston
Tanna villagers in the Middle Bush area pick through the remains of buidlings destroyed by Cyclone Pam. Photo / Kirsty Johnston

Complaints over the "delayed" delivery of aid linger, but authorities are steadfast in their determination that the Government should be control the situation.

"The Vanuatu Government wants to ensure it maintains ownership," Roberts said. "It has a responsibility to ensure the aid is fair and we will work with them to help with that."

Roberts said the locals were extremely resilient but New Zealand had a reponsibility to help.


"People will pick themselves back up. But we can give them a hand to get back on their feet quicker."


The death of a young man at Vila Central Hospital has authorities worried about their capacity to cope with an outbreak of disease.

The man had dengue fever-like symptoms but the illness may also have been leptospirosis or typhoid, doctors said. However, the hospital was low on the supplies they needed to test for disease and also the ability to do so.

Health worker Nikita Taiwia said that while they had received some more blood donations, they only had the kits to take red cells and plasma, but also needed the ability to take platelets.

"There are none of those kind of bags in the country,"she said. Other hospital sources said they were concerned at the lack of equipment available to be able to screen the blood for HIV and hepatitis even if it was delivered.

There was also a lack of transfusion scientist and nurses.

A doctor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the high rate of trauma injuries since the cyclone meant there was a higher need for blood.

Expats were asked to come in if they could. New Zelander Kerry Meyer, from Auckland, was giving blood yesterday.

"I know the hospital needs it," said Meyer, who has a house in the island.

"I want to help. It's upsetting for me how much the locals have lost.


Schools are officially closed for two weeks, but some may be longer if temporarily fixes cannot be found.

The Government has been assessing damage to schools with the help of NGOs. Many have sustained damage, but the full picture is still unknown.

New Zelander Wendy Griffin, a VSA volunteer, from Timaru, is an early childhood education adviser in Port Vila and is now working with the emergency education cluster.

She said the full extent of the damage to schools was unknown. However on one island she visited, Tangoa, all seven of the kindergartens had been destroyed.

"It look liked the island had been swirled around in a huge washing machine. Everything is flattened."

Griffin said there were tents and backpacks and school kits available, but a plan to distribute them was not yet under way.


In Port Vila, shelter was the most immediate concern for many residents.

Paul Fred, local leader in a seaside suburb that mainly houses people from outlying islands who come to Vila to work, said many homes were without a roof.

The remains of a building on the island of Tanna. Photo / Kirsty Johnston
The remains of a building on the island of Tanna. Photo / Kirsty Johnston

"The priority is getting some tarpaulins," Fred said. "We need people to be able to go into their homes instead of an evacuation centre. The next step will be generators so we can have light."


The New Zealand Defence Force flew over the eastern islands of Epi, Emae and Tongoa on Thursday, and will attempt a landing today.

Colonel Glenn King, the joint taskforce commander, said the aim was to get personnel on Epi and assess what New Zealand could do to support there.

He said the next step was to help repair infrastructure. "At first, it's about just being there and showing our support," he said.

"And then helping to repair infrastructure - getting schools, community centres and health clinics functional again."

He said it was moments like the cyclone that the effectiveness of a joint force - navy, army and air force - came through.

"We are very well recieved. We smile and wave, that's a good Kiwi trait of ours. And there's a familiarity. We wear our Kiwi proudly."

To make a donation

• New Zealand Red Cross:

• Unicef New Zealand: unicef.org.nz/vanuatu

• Rotary New Zealand: rnzwcs.org

• World Vision: worldvision.org.nz

• Tear Fund: tearfund.org.nz

• Save The Children: savethechildren.org.nz