Many of the images first emerging from the immense devastation Cyclone Pam wrought on Vanuatu came from an IT specialist who left Ottawa more than decade ago to seek a less stressful life in the South Pacific nation.
Dan McGarry's Humans of Vanuatu Facebook page has received more than half a million views in the days following the cyclone, when wind raging at more than 300 kilometres an hour pummelled the island nation.
The Facebook page was founded by Mr. McGarry's West Papuan friend Paul Inggamer. Initially, it was run as an "amateur census" of the people inhabiting the country's more than 80 islands, Mr. McGarry said Tuesday from his home in Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila.
As soon as the category 5 cyclone dissipated enough for Mr. McGarry and his partner, Alice, to venture outside Saturday morning, they began posting photos of yachts "stacked on the shore" and a shipping container hurdled some 15 metres by the wind. The page became a focal point for locals and those abroad who wanted to understand the extent of the destruction which uprooted trees and flattened houses.
"Words really fail me. It was inconceivable and indescribable event," Mr. McGarry said.
Mr. McGarry, his partner and their two young daughters huddled together Friday night watching eight of their 11 "state of the art" cyclone shutters get ripped apart by the wind while he calculated how long he could hold onto his 3-year-old daughter if the winds tore through the house.
By Wednesday morning, the cleanup in Port Vila was progressing, but there were worries about food scarcity and health after the main local food market was destroyed and the city's hospital severely damaged.
Mr. McGarry, who is on a short-term contract helping UNICEF with communications and local logistics, said cellphone service, nearly universal before the storm, was still patchy because "there's not 200 metres of power lines that's undamaged right now."
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia was sending a 20-person strong emergency medical assistance team of doctors, nurses, paramedics and a pharmacist. They plan to set up a temporary ward in the car park of the damaged Port Vila hospital capable of treating up to 40 patients. Thousands are still staying in shelters overnight, with a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in place to prevent looting.
The majority of locals rely on foods sold at the downtown market such as taro, island cabbage, bananas, kumara and yams for their staple diet.
Shops selling tinned food were open and stocked in the capital, but many locals do not have the money to buy them.
Meanwhile, residents of the southern Vanuatu island of Tanna said they were running out of food and basic supplies on Tuesday.
Relief workers were still battling to reach many of the islands pummeled by Pam. With communications cut off and reconnaissance flights revealing destroyed houses, shredded forests and damaged buildings, international aid agencies had been particularly worried about Tanna, which bore the full force of the storm.
A Reuters witness on the island of 29,000 people, about 200 kilometres south of the capital, said that while damage was extensive, it appeared most of the population had survived by sheltering in schools, churches and other sturdy buildings.
"People sheltered in school buildings. We were helping one another," Ropate Vuso, 67, told Reuters in Tanna township.
"We are running short of food, water, shelter and electricity. We have no communications, we are still waiting for the people from parliament, the chief and the president, but still nobody is coming."
There were unconfirmed reports of four deaths in and around the main town of Tanna.
Oxfam's Vanuatu country manager, Colin Collett van Rooyen, said an assessment flight over the island of Erromango – north of Tanna, with a population of around 2,000 – had revealed huge damage there too.
"What we have seen is damage in some villages, at the upper range, of 70, 80, 90 per cent, one village in particular 100 per cent," he said. "These are small villages but massive destruction."
Aircraft flying over other outlying islands had seen large white Hs marked out on the ground, or residents trying to signal for help with mirrors, he added.
The United Nations said on Tuesday the official death toll from the cyclone was 11, revising down its earlier figure of 24, but many officials anticipate that number would rise once they are able to more thoroughly inspect the outer islands of the scattered archipelago.
With a report from Reuters