Cyclone Harold's damage to Vanuatu 'exceptionally bad'

The extent of Cyclone Harold's damage to Vanuatu is becoming clear after assessment teams were deployed across the island on Monday.

But there are concerns any much-needed help with the recovery will be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The destruction caused by the cyclone is worse than World Vision imagined. 

"To be honest it is, and that's not meant to be sensationalistic," country director in Vanuatu Kendra Gates Derousseau says.

She lived through 2015's Cyclone Pam, which killed at least 15 people and left Vanuatu with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage. So she braced for the worst, but even that fell short. 

"I've really been comparing the damage to a tornado. This almost looks like things have been torn to little pieces. It's exceptionally bad."

While the storm may have passed, the reality of the devastation caused is only just starting to register.

"A lot of us have certainly been experiencing a bit of post-traumatic stress," Gates Derousseau says.

One of the worst affected islands Pentecost reported that 90 percent of dwellings had been destroyed, and a further 20 percent of the population are estimated to be injured.

'Catastrophic' is an understatement the Red Cross says, and satellite images show why. Once lush land, it has now been stripped of crops and homes leaving thousands in urgent need of shelter, water and food.

"I will say, all the kids and the elderly, they are at risk. Actually I worry a lot, it's very very painful," Jaqueline de Gaillande from Red Cross says.

New Zealand was among the first to deliver aid supplies to Vanuatu, and the Defence Force Hercules brought home with 39 stranded Kiwis.

While just hours after its departure from Vanuatu, a plane from China took its place on the tarmac that was carrying medical supplies to help with COVID-19. 

"The UN has been trying to rapidly procure rapid COVID tests to be able to test anyone coming in, and if they test negative they would be able to respond," Gates Derousseau says.

It's feared Vanuatu's efforts to keep COVID-19 out will delay the usual international efforts to offer relief.

"They're still working out whether or not humanitarian personnel would be able to come into the country, and if so what are the testing and quarantine measures for that," she says.