On March 13th and 14th, Cyclone Pam, a Category 5 storm with wind gusts of up to 320 kph, made direct landfall on the island of Vanuatu. It was the most powerful storm to rip through the South Pacific in generations, flattening most of the tiny villages of Vanuatu and leaving others battered to shards, with trees stripped and crops devastated, depleting emergency food supplies from other islands. Some 166,000 people—two-thirds of the nation’s population—required urgent humanitarian assistance, with most left homeless.

An NYC Medics mobile medical team arrived in Port Vila, Vanuatu, on March 17th, deployed at the request of the World Health Organization, and began immediately setting up clinics across the hard-hit Shepherd Islands. Later, with a grant awarded by UNICEF,  NYC Medics also deployed to Tanna Island (home to Mount Yasur Volcano) to vaccinate the region’s children in remote areas not yet reached by other disaster groups. “In forests, there remained a single leaf on trees still standing, and shanty-like villages were just totally decimated and blown away,” recalls NYC Medics’ Medical Director Tim Tan. “We worked with remote local communities, caring for more than 2,000 people to help them get back on their feet.”

The mission, which lasted for six weeks, posed stiff logistical challenges, says Director of Global Programs Kathy Bequary. NYC Medics volunteers traveled by helicopter, foot, and boat and sometimes journeyed for hours to reach communities well before communication was restored to the islands. Beyond providing urgent medical care, the NYC Medics team also established a sentinel site for disease surveillance on Tongoa Island, administered a measles vaccination catch-up campaign with Vitamin A supplementation and de-worming for all children under 5 years of age (in partnership with UNICEF), and performed health facility assessments for the Vanuatu Ministry of Health.”The conditions of the sea and weather made it difficult to reach each location, except by helicopter and sailboat,” Bequary recalls. “But despite these challenges, our mobile medical teams and our rapid-deployment model made it possible to accomplish our mission, providing emergency medical care with a 100 percent vaccination rate to every single community we visited.”