WELLINGTON, New Zealand - The United Nations said Monday that 24 people are confirmed dead and 3,300 have been displaced by Cyclone Pam in the South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu.
Radio and telephone communications with outer islands have not yet been established two days after what the country's president called a "monster" storm, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
It said 3,300 people are sheltering in 37 evacuation centers on the main island of Efate and in the provinces of Torba and Penama. "Basic emergency rations are being provided to evacuees, including water, rice, tinned fish or meat, coffee, tea, sugar, Milo, biscuits and other items," the report said.
Military aircraft from New Caledonia, Australia, and New Zealand have been assessing damage.
The latest report came as Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale returned to his country, which has repeatedly warned it is suffering devastating effects from climate change with coastal areas being washed away.
Looking weary and red-eyed, Lonsdale told the Associated Press that Cyclone Pam destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings in the capital alone. Lonsdale had been attending a U.N. disaster conference in Japan when the cyclone struck.
Lonsdale said because of a breakdown in communications infrastructure, even he could not reach his family. "We do not know if our families are safe or not. As the leader of the nation, my whole heart is for the people, the nation," he said.
The damaged airport in Port Vila, the capital, has reopened, allowing some aid and relief flights to reach the country.
The city's hospital was overwhelmed with patients, and some beds were moved outside due to fears the building is no longer safe.
Many residents spent Monday clearing away downed trees and cleaning up what was left of their houses. Access to food and water is an urgent concern, said UNICEF spokeswoman Alice Clements, who is in Port Vila. Much of the city's water supply has been tainted.