(Transcript from World News Australia)
Australia has stepped up its aid mission to Vanuatu – with dozens of emergency services personnel flying to Port Vila this afternoon.
Government and humanitarian agencies are working to assess the full extent of the damage – so a longer-term strategy to deal with the disaster can be put in place.
Helen Isbister reports.
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On a mission to assist in cyclone ravaged Vanuatu, a 54-strong taskforce, comprising fire and police officers, paramedics, doctors and engineers, flew out of Richmond Air base in Sydney today.
Greg Mullins is the Commissioner of Fire and Rescue New South Wales
“The bulk of the team – fire and rescue officers of whom have had experience in Japan, Christchurch Indonesia and Solomon Islands, so they’re very experienced rescue personnel.”
They’ll focus on repairing critical infrastructure, like the severely-damaged old Port Vila Hospital.
With several tonnes of equipment, including tents, drinking water, food and generators, the team can be self sufficient for up to two weeks.
Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop says their focus will be on providing immediate aid to the ravaged region.
“Our urban search and rescue teams are highly experienced – tragically they have had a lot of experience in this type of work. Our interest is in ensuring the immediate humanitarian needs are met – that life saving measures are put in place and at the same time, we’re then focussing on the clean-up effort.”
Health Minister Susan Ley gave details of an additional medical assistance team of 20 personnel, who are scheduled to arrive in Port Vila tomorrow.
“This team is made of doctors, nurses, paramedics, a radiographer, pharmacist – and all together will take our total health deployment to 27. The team will work within the new wing of the existing hospital and with local staff to provide general practise and emergency care shifts.
At Amberley Airforce base in Brisbane today two more military aircraft took off, packed with personnel and supplies.
Aside from delivering immediate aid – a more complex operation is underway to assess how the disaster should be tackled in the medium to longer future.
It’s a collaborative effort involving the government and humanitarian organisations.
Peter Walton is the head of the international program at the Australian Red Cross.
“We’re in the very early stages and it’s going to cost many millions of dollars to actually assist vanuatu in rebuilding their economy, in rebuilding their society. It’s important to also realised that many other countries in the Pacific are dealing with quite extreme weather at the moment and we need to be taking a long-term view.”
Some of Vanuatu’s neighbours also rallying to help.
At UNICEF’s Pacific regional warehouse in Fiji’s capital, Suva, volunteers worked through the night, packing thousands of items for immediate health and education needs.
Soap, zinc tablets, de-worming tablets, collapsible water tanks, backpacks and stationary supplies were among the kits flown out to Vanuatu today.
Australians continued to stream back home today.
Relieved to be back with loved ones, but thoughts very much with those left behind.
“If anyone has any time for them, or money, time to go over there – then they should do that … because it’s practically no longer.”….”We are just urging everyone over here to just try and donate, to get like – the destruction around our hotel was intese. You know, massive trees uprooted. It’s crazy.”
The Royal Australian Air Force evacuated 199 from Vanuatu to Brisbane late yesterday
Commercial flights are now operating again – but military planes remain on standby to assist in evacutions as required.