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UK sends aid to cyclone-hit Vanuatu

The UK will donate up to £2 million towards relief efforts following a devastating tropical cyclone in the South Pacific which is feared to have wiped out entire communities in Vanuatu.

The Department for International Development said "up to £1 million" will be made immediately available to UN organisations and international aid agencies already working in the region following a request from the Vanuatu government.

An additional £1 million will be made available through the UK's rapid response facility, which provides emergency support via pre-approved organisations in the event of an international humanitarian disaster.

Cyclone Pam tore through the archipelago of islands yesterday with winds of up to 155mph and heavy rainfall causing widespread destruction.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: "All our thoughts are with the people of Vanuatu as they start to assess the full scale of this disaster.

"It is already clear that there has been widespread devastation. Many families have lost their homes and power supplies. Roads and other infrastructure have been left badly damaged.

"Our support will ensure relief agencies can provide temporary shelters; protect vulnerable people, especially women and children; and provide emergency supplies as the country responds to this emergency."

Prime Minister David Cameron said he has been in touch with his New Zealand counterpart John Key to thank him for helping British people on the islands.

He said: "My thoughts are with those affected by Cyclone Pam. We have offered immediate support to Vanuatu."

Alex Mathieson, Oxfam's former director of Vanuatu who lived there for four years and now works for the charity in Melbourne, Australia, said a British woman is among a number of his friends he is anxiously waiting to hear from.

"We're concerned for her and a couple of other friends we haven't been able to get hold of," he said.

"We're hoping for the best from those we haven't heard from.

"Me and my colleagues have watched with a sense of horror and helplessness."

The Foreign Office said it is working to establish whether any British nationals were affected by the disaster.

Aid agencies fear the storm could have wiped out entire villages in Vanuatu, in what may be one of the worst disasters in Pacific history.

With communications services severely affected, the extent of the damage is unclear but it is feared dozens of people could be dead.

The highly-populated island of Efate, which includes the Vanuatu capital Port Vila, was directly in the path of the cyclone.

Oxfam said there is "real concern" of a high death toll, with more than 250,000 people at risk from the tropical cyclone.

Mr Mathieson added: "We're beginning to see what's happening from friends posting pictures and videos of the devastation online.

"This is a major disaster and that can't be overstated.

"Responding to the initial needs of water, shelter and medical attention is the priority but getting access to the remote islands quickly will be difficult."


From Belfast Telegraph