Canadians who are now back on home soil after getting trapped in the Caribbean last week by Hurricane Irma continue to describe a chaotic and frightening scene.
One man who had been on the Dutch island of St. Maarten when the hurricane’s winds tore it apart told CTV Montreal that he spent days with limited access to food, water or shelter, unable to get on commercial flights out of the country.
The man said he only escaped the island after a U.S. military plane airlifted him to Puerto Rico.
“Thank God for the American military,” he said. “There was nobody there for Canada … nobody there helping any Canadians.”
The man said there was widespread looting and the only food and water available were rations from the Dutch military.
“You couldn’t even go to a grocery store to buy anything because they were being robbed top to bottom,” he said.
“We should have our military to evacuate people in situations like this,” the man added.
Another woman who arrived at Montreal’s Trudeau airport Tuesday after several frightening days on St. Maarten said she was disappointed in the Canadian government’s response.
The woman told CTV Montreal that she had been vacationing in a rented waterfront home but moved to a hotel in anticipation of the hurricane. The storm ripped the hotel’s roof right off, so she went to the airport but there were no flights available for Canadians or any government officials to assist her.
“Only Americans and Dutch (were) leaving,” she said. “And Canadians, we had nothing.”
That woman finally got a WestJet flight to Toronto on Monday. She said WestJet provided a hotel for her on Monday night before she flew back to Montreal Tuesday.
“Thank God for WestJet,” she said.
In total, 301 passengers arrived on WestJet and Air Canada flights in Toronto on Monday from St. Maarten and Turks and Caicos, the two hard-hit islands where several hundred Canadians were staying during the storm.
In addition to expressing relief to being back in Canada, many of the passengers who landed in Toronto Monday night offered sympathies to those who live on the islands affected by the storm.
“It’s decimated the people there,” said passenger Kyla Jorgenson. “My heart goes out to them because they can’t get off (the islands).”
Passenger Andrew Trozzi said the ordeal was frustrating, but nowhere near as difficult for him as it was for the locals. “They have nothing now,” he said.
Naail Falah, who was there to put the “finishing touches” on a home he recently purchased in Turks and Caicos.
“We were stuck,” he told CTV News Channel. “It was a very painful situation.”
Falah said his new home sustained only minor damage in the storm, but others were not so lucky. “We did not want to leave,” he said. “There were so many people that were in so much worse condition than we were.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Tuesday that 53 non-Canadians were also on the flights out of St. Maarten and Turks and Caicos on Monday. Those passengers were accepted because there were still empty seats on the flights, and no Canadians were turned away as a result, Freeland said.
The federal government said another 390 passengers were brought back to Canada over the weekend.