Vanuatu's president says the cyclone that hammered the tiny South Pacific archipelago over the weekend was a "monster" that destroyed or damaged 90% of the buildings in the capital and has forced the nation to start anew. Baldwin Lonsdale, who was attending a UN disaster conference in Japan when the cyclone struck, says because of the break in communications, even he couldn't 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 says, appealing for international aid for the place he calls "paradise."
"This is a very devastating cyclone in Vanuatu. I term it as a monster, a monster," says Lonsdale, who plans to return to the country today. "After all the development that has taken place, all this development has been wiped out." He says six people have been confirmed dead, but officials have still not made contact with outlying islands and are struggling to determine the scale of devastation from the cyclone that tore through the nation early Saturday. The coordinator for Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office says officials have dispatched every available plane and helicopter to fly over the hard-hit outer islands. "The damage to homes and infrastructure is severe," he says. "The priority at the moment is to get people water, food, and shelter."