WELLINGTON/SYDNEY, March 16 (Reuters) - Early reports from the outer islands of Vanuatu on Monday painted a picture of utter destruction after a monster cyclone tore through the South Pacific island nation.
Authorities in Vanuatu were struggling to establish contact with the islands that bore the brunt of Cyclone Pam's winds of more than 300 kph (185 mph), which flattened buildings, smashed boats and washed away roads and bridges as it struck late on Friday and into Saturday.
The government's official toll is eight dead and 20 injured but that looks certain to rise, given the extent of the damage.
The southern island of Tanna, about 200 km (125 miles) south of the capital, Port Vila, with its 29,000 inhabitants took the full force of the category 5 storm. Initial reports from aid groups said it had been devastated, along with the main town on the southern island of Erromango, with at least two people reported dead.
A clean-up was under way in Port Vila, where seas were reported to have surged as high as 8 meters (26 ft), with as much as three-quarters of the capital's houses reported destroyed or severely damaged.