Relief teams reach Vanuatu's cyclone-hit outer islands

Damage to houses in Port Vila, Vanuatu is seen from the air in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam Monday, March 16, 2015. Vanuatu's President Baldwin Lonsdale said Monday that the cyclone that hammered the tiny South Pacific archipelago over the weekend was a "monster" that has destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings in the capital and has forced the nation to start anew.

A Category 5 storm tore apart much of the small island nation of Vanuatu, located in the South Pacific near Australia over the weekend.

However, many of the islands’ residents are grateful to be alive, especially the missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to a release from the Mormon Newsroom, all missionaries in the area have been contacted and are accounted for. 

MormonNewsroom.org said Wednesday that six missionaries on the island of Ambae were still unaccounted for. Communication lines are down, making contacting them difficult. 

Two LDS missionaries based on the island of Santo took emergency supplies aboard a commercial boat to the island of Ambae Tuesday to try to contact the six missionaries there. According to the release, those six missionaries were accounted for and safe Wednesday. 

Cyclone Pam blew through Vanuatu over the weekend, destroying much of the nation's recent economic progress, according to a BBC News article. Many members of the LDS Church reportedly lost their homes and are taking shelter in church meetinghouses.

Another BBC article reports many of the islands’ residents are even resorting to drinking salt water after their drinking supplies were damaged.

Humanitarian services are being flown from the nation’s capital, Port Vila, to outlying, smaller islands such as the island of Tanna. The 11 missionaries on Tanna will be flown back Wednesday from the island to Port Vila.

The Vanuatu Port Vila Mission of the LDS Church was organized in 2012, with Larry Brewer serving as the first mission president.

The mission encompasses Vanuatu, The Solomon Islands and New Caledonia. Previously, Vanuatu and New Caledonia were part of the Fiji Suva Mission, and The Solomon Islands were part of the Papua New Guinea Port Moresby Mission.

There are more than 6,000 members comprising 31 congregations of the LDS Church in Vanuatu.

Kurt Hanson is the Breaking News and Courts reporter for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (801) 344-2560 or khanson@heraldextra.com. Follow him on Twitter: @hansonherald.

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