17 Mar 2015

'The walls were shaking'

11:02 am on 17 March 2015

New Zealanders who returned from Vanuatu have told of their fear as Cyclone Pam tore through the main island.

Eighty-nine tourists were flown from Port Vila to Auckland yesterday on Air Force planes that had delivered aid to the cyclone-battered islands.

New Zealanders on an Air Force plane returning from Vanuatu.

New Zealanders on an Air Force plane returning from Vanuatu. Photo: NZ DEFENCE FORCE

The United Nations says 24 people are confirmed to have died in the category five storm.

Read updates on the situation in Vanuatu

Nelson couple Fiona and Brendon Crichton and their children were among 250 wedding guests hunkered down in a conference centre for five or six hours as the cyclone went through on Friday.

Mrs Crichton said the walls were shaking and at one point they thought the wind would break through the doors, so they fled to the kitchen to shelter under tables.

After the cyclone the family visited a village where, Mr Crichton said, only one house was left standing.

The Crichton family from Nelson.

The Crichton family from Nelson sheltered in a conference centre's kitchen. Photo: RNZ / Olivia Allison

For tourist Lloyd Neal from Christchurch the experience was worse than the Canterbury earthquakes, he said, as the wind strength built for about 10 hours.

"Worse by quite some because you've got debris flying, you've got containers moving, you've got boats being pushed around."

Mr Neal said of 40 hotel staff, 37 had lost their homes.

New Zealand High Commissioner Georgina Roberts said her office had contacted people who had registered on their travel system, and visited hotel accommodation in the capital.

Space for up to 100 people had been offered on Air Force planes returning from delivering aid to Port Vila.

"We had a very quick response from New Zealanders, indicating their interest to leave," said Ms Roberts.

"Not only for their own safety and situation but also to allow space for the local government, and community and tourism sector to assess what damage there is, start to fix and get themselves back on track."

The Defence Force said 51 people were returned on one Hercules and 38 on the other Hercules.

New Zealanders waiting to leave Port Vila.

New Zealanders waiting to leave Port Vila. Photo: NZ DEFENCE FORCE

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