Hundreds of Canadians were stranded on the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos and St. Maarten over the weekend, amid the chaos of the flooding and looting that followed the deadly storm.
While the United States airlifted out many of their citizens on Friday, Canadians were left to rely on commercial aircraft to get home. Commercial flights carried about 390 people back to Canada over the weekend but hundreds remained on Monday.
WestJet flights out of St. Maarten and an Air Canada flight out of Turks and Caicos were expected to transport the “lion’s share” of those who remained, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Ken Reynolds and Laurie McCoy arrived back in Toronto on Monday afternoon, shaken and without most of their possessions, but happy to be on Canadian soil.
"I'm just happy to touch the ground after what we've seen -- and I feel so bad for those people,” said McCoy. “They’ve got nothing left.”
The couple had been partway through a three-year sailing trip to celebrate their retirement when they stopped at St. Maarten to get a part for their boat. They heard that Irma was forecast to be a Category 5 hurricane and decided to stay on the island. A stranger took them into her home.
“She saved our lives, I think, because we had nowhere to go,” Reynolds said.
The winds were so intense, according to Reynolds, that he “thought the patio door was going to bust open because it was moving like a heartbeat, just back and forth slowly, just really bending.”
After the storm passed, their boat was gone, along with most of their possessions, and there was no clear information from the Canadian government about what to do, Reynolds said.
They headed to the airport, where there were few supplies apart from bottled water that Reynolds said was as “hot as coffee.”
The couple finally managed to get a flight to Puerto Rico, from which they flew to Houston, Texas, and then on to Toronto on Monday. They had arranged to stay with friends in Fenelon Falls, Ont., on Monday night.
Mariel Chan was also among the Canadians stuck on St. Maarten over the weekend.
In an emotional video chat with her sister Wyncel Jo, she said that she was summoned to the airport by Global Affairs via text message to board a privately organized Sunwing Airlines flight home, only to be turned away on the tarmac.
“They are only prioritizing families, and mothers and children. They have a certain list. I talked to Sunwing’s co-ordinators. They say they have no idea (about) other flights coming in from Sunwing,” she said.
Lacey Cranston, meanwhile, told CTV News Channel that her parents were driven to the airport on Friday night, only to watch Americans, Brits and French nationals leave while they were turned back to their hotel.
On Saturday, it was deemed unsafe for her parents to stay at the resort and they were driven back to the airport, where they remained with no food and little water until Monday afternoon, according to Cranston.
“Sunday morning, my dad -- who is never scared of anything -- called and said, ‘Get me the hell out of here,’” Cranston said. “They were scared … The lack of communication was frustrating.”
Cranston added that Global Affairs staff were unable to tell her very much over the weekend, but she received a text message on Monday from her parents saying they had boarding passes for a WestJet flight.
“From my perspective, our government didn’t have a plan in place to get people out,” Cranston said. “We have our NATO allies there in the U.S. getting people out and their evacuation plan was swift.”
Live with my sister being rejected flights because she's Canadian and nothing is sent from CanadaPosted by Wyncel Joy on Sunday, September 10, 2017
Roy Bateni's daughter is stuck in Anguilla in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, and he says the situation is dire.
"They have no running water, they have no electricity, they have no food," he told CTV News Channel.
Bateni says his daughter -- who is attending medical school in Anguilla -- had planned to make her way to the site where WestJet was running a rescue flight, but was deterred by stories of armed men waiting to rob tourists and students looking to leave the island, and have faced attacks by wild dogs.
"They're truly scared. They're going through hell," he said.
He says he's disappointed with the response from Canada's federal government, and believes more could be done.
"We feel like they're just giving lip service, they're not doing anything," Bateni said. "I wonder how [government officials] would feel if their daughter was stuck in an island like that and you were helpless."
With a report from CTV Toronto and files from The Canadian Press, Jeff Lagerquist and Nick Wells