The government of Vanuatu declared a nationwide state of emergency after at least 24 people died and communications with outer islands remain severed by Cyclone Pam, which tore through the South Pacific archipelago leaving a trail of devastation.

"This was a cyclone that flattened houses and, unfortunately, to find missing people and those who are unaccounted for, it is going to take a huge search and rescue effort," Chloe Morrison, a World Vision emergency communications officer, said by phone from the capital, Port Vila. "Connections have been down here, so we haven't had any reports in from the outlying islands either."

Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale described the storm as "a monster" and said the full impact of the cyclone was not yet known. He said that his country was facing "a major calamity."

Vanuatu, an archipelago of about 80 islands, was a British- French colony until it gained independence in 1980. Home to some 277,000 people, it's located about 1,500 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia.

Bridges linking the capital Port Vila with the rest of the island have been destroyed, Lonsdale said.

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