|Orion surveys Vanuatu after Cyclone Ivy|
|The New Zealand Orion was due to land at Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila, this afternoon. Picture / BOP|
The New Zealand Government has despatched an RNZAF Orion to conduct a surveillance flight over Vanuatu's outlying islands in the wake of Cyclone Ivy which hit the country on Thursday and Friday.
Cyclone Ivy has cut a swathe through the centre of the South Pacific nation, packing winds of up to 190km/h and tearing down houses, ripping out trees and cutting most national communications.
"There's still been no contact with many of Vanuatu's islands," Associate Foreign Affairs Minister Marian Hobbs said today.
"Telecommunications are down and we don't know the level of damage outside the main island, Efate.
"This surveillance flight...will help the Vanuatu government and other countries in the region to get a clearer picture."
The Orion was due to land at Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila, this afternoon to pick up Government representatives before continuing the flyover.
Ms Hobbs said further New Zealand assistance would be based on the outcome of the assessment flight.
New Zealand was ready to provide help to cyclone-hit Vanuatu once that country's government had determined what it needed, Ms Hobbs said.
"Information is still coming in, though it is clear Cyclone Ivy has caused significant damage to crops and houses throughout the island chain," Ms Hobbs said.
"Fortunately, there are no reports of deaths although there are unconfirmed reports of injuries."
New Zealand High Commission staff were checking on New Zealanders living in Vanuatu and visitors with no reports of any significant problems at this stage, the minister said.
Officials from New Zealand, Australia and France met in Wellington yesterday to co-ordinate a response once the Vanuatu government made it known what it needed, she said.
The capital, Port Vila, appeared to have escaped major damage although the main wharf was out of action as two fishing vessels had turned on their sides and sunk against it.
Telecommunications had been disrupted with links down to Santo, Lakotoro and Ambrym islands. Some areas were without power.
Port Vila's international airport was open.
The French government had a Puma helicopter on standby in Noumea ready for aerial surveillance over Vanuatu but it could not leave because of the cyclone's position near Noumea.
Cyclone Ivy was tracking southwest towards New Caledonia and was expected to hit the Loyalty Islands and the Isle de Pins last night.