HALIFAX -- Being so far from his home country of India has been excruciatingly difficult for 23-year-old Shantanu Pandey.

His aunt, who lives in India, died of COVID-19 Monday morning.

“Nothing could save her,” he says.

With flights to and from the virus-stricken nation on hold, all Pandey can do is grieve the loss from a distance and worry about his other relatives back home.

He has two uncles in India also suffering from COVID-19.

“The most scary part is when in the middle of the night, you suddenly wake up and realize you’re in Canada, you’re not with your family members.”

Pandey hasn’t been able to return to India since he moved to Halifax in 2019. The pandemic cancelled his plan to go home last year.

The South Asian country, second most populated in the world, has been gripped by a devastating COVID-19 wave that is has been sweeping the country over the past nine weeks.

Tuesday, India reported more than 323,000 new cases of the virus, and 2,771 deaths in the past 24 hours. The country’s Health Ministry says 115 Indians are dying of the disease every hour - a figure experts say is likely underestimated. India has exceeded 17 million confirmed cases.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will send $10 million through the Canadian Red Cross to its Indian counterpart to help.

Pandey says the healthcare system in India was unprepared for the crushing number of cases.

“People are actually struggling for oxygen and ventilators out there as well,” he says. “It’s just a nightmare.”

Rachana Samtaney hasn’t seen her parents for three years and feels worried and helpless as the crisis continues.

She says her parents live in the western region of India, which was the first to be hit hard by this wave of the virus.

Her parents are living in lockdown and she wishes she could be there to help them. She talks to them on the phone every day.

“It’s very difficult for us to see the situation from here and not be able to do much, at this time,” she says.

Her family has also been affected by the tragedy.

“I just lost my uncle (to COVID-19) last night,” she says. “He battled against COVID in the ICU for a few days, but he couldn’t make it.”

At her Spryfield fabric and tailoring shop, Ushua Goel says she gets anxious when she gets a phone call from India, worried she will hear bad news.

Goel is also president of the Indo Canadian Association of Nova Scotia. She says there are very few people in the community that have not been touched by the tragedy.

“One of the community members told me this morning,” she says. “That from her family, 14 have COVID, and two have died.”

With international aid on its way to India, members of the community here are trying to stay hopeful.

But the increasing number of cases in their new Nova Scotia home – which reached 419 active cases Tuesday and will enter a provincewide shutdown as of 8 AM Wednesday.

Pandey urges Nova Scotians to follow public health protocols.

“India is in a nightmare right now, we cannot afford that in Canada here, not at all,” he pleads.

“So please, stay home, stay safe, mask up.”