The full scale of death and destruction in Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew grew clearer on Thursday as relief flights began to reach stranded towns.
Photos revealed entire villages virtually washed away by storm surge and thousands of homes gutted by the 140 mph winds.
Haiti's civil protection agency raised the provisional death toll to 264 on Thursday, mostly victims of falling trees, flying debris and swollen rivers, as information trickled in from villages along the southwest peninsula where the eye of Matthew made landfall.
Photos from the cities of Les Cayes on the south coast of Haiti’s southwestern peninsula, as well as Jérémie on the north coast revealed extensive damage to homes, many with roofs missing. In some cases, coastal villages appeared to have been engulfed by the sea leaving no home intact and an unknown number of dead.
Electricity was out across the entire peninsula.
United Nations officials are calling it the worst humanitarian crisis to hit impoverished Haiti since a devastating 2010 earthquake.
In the community of Port-a-Piment the local hospital was reported to be overwhelmed with wounded victims of Matthew. As many as 24 people killed in the coastal town of Roche-a-Bateau on the southwest peninsula, Reuters reported.
"I've never seen anything like this," said the town's delegate Louis Paul Raphael.
The storm crossed southwest Haiti on Monday before hitting the eastern tip of Cuba on Tuesday. By Thursday it was battering the Bahamas en route to Florida.
A U.S. military Task Force consisting of nine Marine and Army helicopters and about 150-200 personnel arrived in Haiti on Wednesday to “provide vital lift of relief supplies," according to U.S. Southern Command spokesman, Jose Ruiz.
In the city of Les Cayes, thousands of people who lost homes were crowded into makeshift shelters, according to Morgan Wienberg, a Canadian volunteers who runs a safe house, Little Footprints, Big Steps, for needy children.
“Major urgent challenges are lack of food and water, mattresses and blankets for shelters, hygiene kits, medical care, cholera, clearing roads/repairing electrical damage,” she wrote via Facebook.
She urged donors to send money to local groups rather than big charities “where money is often wasted and not spent on those who need it most.”
A humanitarian aid pilot described the affected area as "decimated" after a six hour aerial survey.
"Lots of work to be done. A major long term concern is the complete loss of gardens in these areas. Food is already scarce," wrote Michael Broyles with Mission Aviation Fellowship.
One in three homes lost roofs along a broad stretch of the southwest coast, according to Michael Capponi, a Miami businessman known for his humanitarian work in Haiti, who flew over the area on Thursday. " This will take years to rebuild again unfortunately. What strikes me most is the amount of trees that broke at their bases. Millions of trees leveled."
In Jérémie, a town of about 40,000 on the north coast of the peninsula almost every home was reported to be damaged.
And on the island of Ile-a-Vache, home to about 10,000 people, many houses were demolished and roofs ripped off.
“We are without hope in this island,” said Makenley Loussaint, a 19-year-old student via Facebook. “Very bad, no food,” he added.
“It is obvious hell has walked over Ile-a-Vache. Now the angels must clean up the mess,” said Bruce Leeming, founder of Friends of Ile-a-Vache, a Canadian-based charity with projects on the island.
“Money will not fix this but it will provide hope, nourishment and tools to try. Money is only one part of the cure but it is a big part,” he added.
The island, a former pirate hideway of Captain Henry Morgan, sits about five miles off the southern coast and depends on local agriculture and fishing. Cut off from the rest of the country for several days, residents are badly in need of food and fresh water, according to Patrick Lucien with the local charity EDEM Foundation.
“People will need to rebuild and put a roof over their head,” said Lucien. “Water and food are the most basic necessities for now.”
"The long-term negative impact of this will be extreme malnutrition due to crop loss," said Aaron Jackson with Planting Peace, which runs an orphanage and malnutrition program in Haiti. "A high percentage of Haitians living in the countryside grow their own food, and almost everyone has at least corn growing on their land as way of providing the most basic food security," he added.