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Tropical cyclone batters Vanuatu; dozens feared dead

Tropical cyclone batters Vanuatu; dozens feared dead

Port Vila: Dozens are feared dead after tropical cyclone Pam, one of the most powerful in the South Pacific in recent years, tore through the small island nation of Vanuatu on Saturday.

The United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it has received reports that 44 were killed in the north-central province of Penama, although official figures on the number of dead and injured have not yet been released.

The deaths of six people have been confirmed in the capital, Port Vila, which has a population of 40,000 and where local authorities say the tropical cyclone seriously damaged 80 percent of homes, Radio New Zealand reported.

Humanitarian organisations said Port Vila was devastated by wind gusts of up to 340 kms per hour, but they added that the destruction could be even worse in the archipelago's outlying islands.

Alice Clements of Unicef said in a statement that Pam was clearly far more powerful than initially projected and its landfall was certainly a catastrophe for the people of Vanuatu.

It could take several days for a clear picture of the number of people killed or injured and the material damage because much of the archipelago is cut off and without power and, in the case of Port Vila, also without water.

"The damage is quite extensive in Port Vila (located in the south-central province of Shefa) but there are so many more vulnerable islands. I can't even imagine what it's like in those vulnerable communities," Chloe Morrison, the spokesperson for World Vision in Vanuatu, said.

Pam also has battered some other South Pacific territories such as the island nation of Tuvalu, where a state of emergency has been declared and elections scheduled for Thursday have been postponed.

The storm is on a southeast track and meteorologists expect its centre will be east of New Zealand on Monday or Tuesday.

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