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Tuvalu among other Pacific nations also battered by cyclone
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) March 15, 2015

Cyclone, hurricane, typhoon: different names for same violent phenomenon
Paris (AFP) March 14, 2015 - They may have different names according to the region they hit, but cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons are all violent tropical storms that can generate 10 times as much energy as the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Cyclone is the term used for a low-pressure system that strikes the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. The same type of disturbance in the Atlantic and northeast Pacific is called a hurricane while typhoon is the term used in Asia.

But meteorologists use the term "tropical cyclone" when talking generally about these immensely powerful natural phenomena, which are divided into five categories according to the maximum sustained wind force and the scale of the potential damage they can inflict.

Cyclone Pam, which slammed into Vanuatu late Friday with wind gusts of up to 320 kilometres (200 miles) an hour, wreaked widespread devastation in the South Pacific island nation.

But Pam was not the strongest storm ever to hit the South Pacific -- Tropical Cyclone Zoe, which struck in 2002, was stronger with 380 kilometres an hour winds.

Cyclones are formed from simple thunderstorms at certain times of the year when the sea temperature is more than 26 degrees Celsius (79 Fahrenheit) down to a depth of 60 metres (200 feet).

Sucking up vast quantities of water, they often produce torrential rains and flooding resulting in major loss of life and property damage.

They also trigger large swells that move faster than the cyclone and are sometimes spotted up to 1,000 kilometres ahead of the powerful storm. The sea level can rise several metres.

These powerful weather formations can measure between 500 and 1,000 kilometres in diameter and have a relatively calm "eye" at the centre.

They weaken rapidly when they travel over land or colder ocean waters.

Cyclones are closely monitored by satellites, and specialised centres around the world -- in Miami, Tokyo, Honolulu and New Delhi -- track the super storms' trajectories under the coordination of the World Meteorological Organisation.

Nearly half the population of Tuvalu have been severely affected by the devastation wrought by Cyclone Pam, Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga said Sunday, with other Pacific island nations also taking a hit.

While the focus has been on devastation in neighbouring Vanuatu, Tuvalu -- a grouping of nine coral atolls with a population of less than 11,000 -- is also struggling to cope, he told Radio New Zealand International.

"Forty five percent of the population of Tuvalu, most of whom are on the outer islands, have been affected, badly, severely affected," he said of the island chain some 1,550 kilometres (960 miles) northeast of Vanuatu.

"We are worried about the aftermath in terms of hygiene and supplies of essential materials like food, medicine and water."

Few details of the impact were given. But Sopoaga said most people living on the outer islands of the ex-British colony formerly known as the Ellice Islands had been affected, with houses and crops washed away.

He told the broadcaster there were health and safety concerns after cemeteries were destroyed and government boats were setting off later Sunday to assess the extent of the damage.

Aurelia Balpe, the Fiji-based head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Pacific, said there had been extensive flooding in the low-lying nation.

"Tuvalu has had storm surges and up to six of its islands have been affected. People have spoken of four-to-five metre (13-16 foot) waves," she told AFP, adding that "people are hip-high in water".

"Some houses have fallen over and other infrastructure has been hit, with one hospital destroyed."

Balpe said other Pacific nations, including the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, had also been battered although not as badly as Vanuatu.

"Kiribati has also had storm surges," she said, with the main causeway on the islands badly damaged.

"There's basically one road on the islands and the bridge has been destroyed, which is seriously impacting transport."

On the Solomons several houses were razed with areas inundated by water, causing landslides.

"It is unprecedented in terms of the number of places impacted," Balpe said of the Pacific.

"But we have not heard of casualties in the Solomons, Kiribati and Tuvalu at the moment."

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Canberra was responding to a request from Tuvalu, one of the world's smallest and most remote countries.

"Tuvalu has announced a state of emergency and we are responding to that request with basic supplies, water, sanitation, tents, blankets and food," she said in Perth.

"In the case of Fiji, Solomon Islands and Kiribati, we understand assessments are being made. The impact is not as great but we wait to hear."

Cyclone Pam smashed into impoverished Vanuatu on Friday night with a state of emergency declared as relief agencies desperately scrambled to get help amid reports entire villages were "blown away".

The official death toll stood at six on Sunday, although the United Nations had unconfirmed reports of 44 people killed in just one Vanuatu province.

Aid groups said the scale of the disaster would not be known until reports filter in from outlying islands.

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