Relief workers who have struggled for days to access remote areas of Vanuatu that were ravaged by a fierce cyclone finally reached some of the islands today, where they were confronted with scenes of widespread destruction. Australian military planes that conducted aerial assessments of the outer islands found significant damage, particularly on Tanna Island, where it appears that more than 80% of homes and other buildings were partially or completely destroyed, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says. "We understand that the reconnaissance imagery shows widespread devastation," Bishop says. "Not only buildings flattened—palm plantations, trees. It's quite a devastating sight."
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says 11 people have been confirmed dead, but officials with the National Disaster Management Office say they have no accurate figures, and aid agencies have reported varying numbers. The confusion over how many died in the storm reflects the difficulty officials face as they try to deal with a disaster spread across many remote islands amid a near-total communications blackout. "Vanuatu is a challenging place at the best of times, in the sense of getting around and logistics," a spokesman for CARE Australia says. "So a situation like this is pretty testing." (Read more cyclone stories.)