Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale said the storm had destroyed most buildings in the capital Port Vila, including schools and clinics.
Initial reports indicated Cyclone Pam was on a collision course with the Volvo Ocean Race fleet shortly after they were due to leave Auckland. At this point the race was delayed for a day but, despite a change of course by the deadly weather system, the race did not start until 18 March.
The main issue had become the sea state the fleet was likely to meet in the South Pacific and then Southern Ocean.
Team Brunel’s Australian navigator, Andrew Cape, said:“The situation is different to what we’ve ever had before in the 41-year history of this race.”
The crews, led out of the ‘City of Sails’ by Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA), knew they may have avoided the cyclone but still face the toughest of all nine legs as they race through the Southern Ocean.
The route takes the boats close to Point Nemo, the remotest place from land, where the nearest humanity can be found in the space stations patrolling the earth. The same leg caused havoc to the fleet in the last edition in 2011-12 with only winners Puma escaping serious damage and eventual event victors Groupama limping home with a jury rig.
MAPFRE were the winners of this Race’s Leg 4 in what turned out to be one of the closest finishes in Volvo Ocean Race history. Just eight minutes separated the top three after 20 days at sea.
The 5,264 nm from Sanya, China to Auckland took the MAPRE team 20 days, two hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds. They were just four minutes 25 seconds ahead of Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
Damian Foxall (IRL), said: “It is hard to overstate the difficulty of the Volvo Ocean Race for the sailors and teams in the longest event in any sport.”
Depending on the weather they encounter, the teams are expected to arrive in Itajaí around 7 April. Follow the latest Volvo Ocean Race news at