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Cyclone Pam: Vanuatu Residents Begin Search for Families and Homes

Residents of Vanuatu were still desperately searching for loved ones after Cyclone Pam smashed into the small Pacific island nation.
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TANNA, Vanuatu — Desperate Vanuatu residents scoured the remains of their homes in search of missing family members on Tuesday, four days after deadly Cyclone Pam smashed into the Pacific island chain.

While the recovery effort was well underway in the capital Port Vila, power and communications blackouts meant some of those separated from their loved ones on the outer islands have been relying on rumor and hope alone.

Favi Nagin, a 27-year-old-student, was studying in the capital when the storm struck. Having received no word from her family on the island of Tanna, some 120 miles away, she took the nerve-wracking journey Tuesday to find out if her two-year-old son and elderly mother had survived the storm.

"That's my son, I've got my son alive," said a tearful Nagin on seeing her son, Fabriseten, for the first time since Pam struck. "I'm very happy at the moment, no more worries. I'll be sleeping well tonight."

Nagin — who traveled with NBC News from the island's airport to her community — saw countless ruined buildings along the dirt road and was overcome with emotion when she arrived to find her own home still standing.

"This is a miracle in my life," she said. She also found that her mother, Doneth Alpi, was uninjured.

Pam struck Vanuatu on Friday and Saturday, leaving at least 11 people dead and forcing some 33,000 people to flee their homes. Much of the country is "simply flattened," according to the Red Cross.

Tanna, with a population of around 30,000, was among the worst-hit islands. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters Tuesday around 80 percent of its buildings had been badly damaged or destroyed.

"The reconnaissance imagery shows widespread devastation, not only buildings flattened, but palm plantations [and] trees," she said. "It's quite a devastating sight."

Just a few miles from Nagin's family, Jonas Sumu traveled to the home of his mother, Mary Johnson, with no idea if she was alive or dead. Picking his way through fallen branches and tangled undergrowth, he found her sitting on the ground, surrounded by piles of metal that once made up her fragile home.

On seeing Sumu, who lives in the capital, she broke down in tears and the pair held hands and sobbed. Sumu then took NBC News to the mess of metal and bricks that used to be his local church.

"That's where we meet all the time," he said. "Our lives are here, for the community, family."

Despite the devastation, Sumu said he was simply relieved to find his mother alive after days of not being in communication with there.

"We [didn't] know if they are alive, or [they didn't know] if we are alive," he said. "I'm very happy when I see her, that she's still alive."

NBC News' Alexander Smith reported from London.