LISA WILKINSON: First to the devastation in Vanuatu where Cyclone Pam has ravaged the island nation. It is the worst storm to hit the island nation in recorded history, a Category 5 monster that packed winds of 320km an hour. Here's what we know so far, as many as 200,000 people may have been left homeless. The death toll now stands between six and 10 with that number set to rise. There are no reports of any Australian casualties among the dead. Communications remain down across many areas making it difficult to know the full extent of the damage. Disaster relief teams from Australia and New Zealand have arrived to start the massive clean-up and relief effort. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins us now from Canberra with the latest details.
Good morning to you Foreign Minister.
JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Lisa.
LISA WILKINSON: Can you tell us what is the very latest you have on the extent of the devastation there?
JULIE BISHOP: The destruction caused by Tropical Cyclone Pam is clearly very widespread. We have a number of surveillance teams and assessment teams there now. We are also sending military aircraft to carry out surveillance over the Pacific, but as you mentioned it was a Category 5 cyclone, the highest you can record, winds up to 320km an hour, so we believe that the destruction has been widespread. The death toll is still unconfirmed. Reports are that it is at eight. There are no reports of Australian casualties.
We have sent in three military planes yesterday and two more planes will head in today - a Hercules and two C17s left from Australia yesterday with emergency supplies including medical kits and shelter kits, food, water and we’ve also sent personnel including engineers, medical practitioners, urban search and rescue personnel. So we are responding very quickly to any requests for assistance. We are working particularly closely with the Government of Vanuatu because Vanuatu has been the hardest hit but we are also responding to requests from Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
LISA WILKINSON: The United Nations says that it fears the worse. How difficult is it for aid to actually reach those parts of the island that have been left with catastrophic damage, particularly those outlying regions?
JULIE BISHOP: Yesterday we announced $5 million in funding for the NGOs, Red Cross and United Nations partner organisations, so that they can get teams to some of the outer areas as quickly as possible. I know that we are particularly concerned about the outer islands around Vanuatu, so getting rescue teams there will not be easy but we have made planes available. We are also assisting in getting the United Nations teams into Port Vila through travel arrangements and the like. So we are doing what we can to assist the NGOs, Red Cross and other organisations to get to, not only the major centres, but to some of the outlying centres where it is very difficult, because communications are down.
Port Vila airport is now operating again, so commercial flights are going in and coming out. I should also mention that the Australian Government has offered assisted passage for those wanting to leave on our military planes coming home. It is perhaps not as comfortable as a commercial flight, but nevertheless we are giving priority to the elderly, the sick, pregnant women, children and the like so that people can leave Vanuatu as well. But a flight did, I understand, go into Port Vila today, a commercial flight.
LISA WILKINSON: You mentioned that there have been no reports of Australian casualties at this stage. Are All Australians accounted for at the moment? Do you know how many are actually there?
JULIE BISHOP: We now have over 1400 Australians registered with our High Commission. That is up from 800 on Saturday, so Australians are reporting in, if you like and registering, but we are also sending consular teams to hotels and accommodation around Vanuatu and we are doing what we can to make contact with people.
We do estimate that at any one time there are probably 3000 Australians in Vanuatu. We have at least half of them registered but we have not had any reports. Our consular line is open, our High Commission is working around the clock. We have sent a consular team in to assist our High Commission in Port Vila but at this stage thankfully I can report that no Australians have been amongst the casualties. We haven't had any reports of Australians in distress or needing support but the offers are there for support from the Australian Government.
LISA WILKINSON: A terrible time for such a wonderful nation. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop we thank you very much for your time this morning.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.
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