News / Canada

Hundreds of Canadians stranded in the Caribbean amid ‘pure anarchy’

Civil aviation authorities wouldn’t allow Air Canada to board the passengers, officials say. At least 368 Canadians remain stranded in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Jose.

Tourists arriving with the first flight from Sint Maarten at the Eindhoven Military Airbase on September 11, 2017, after hurricane Irma destroyed the island. Air Canada was planning on using a chartered plane to evacuate 95 Canadians who had been staying on Turks and Caicos, but civil aviation authorities wouldn't allow the passengers to board.

ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/AFP/Getty Images

Tourists arriving with the first flight from Sint Maarten at the Eindhoven Military Airbase on September 11, 2017, after hurricane Irma destroyed the island. Air Canada was planning on using a chartered plane to evacuate 95 Canadians who had been staying on Turks and Caicos, but civil aviation authorities wouldn't allow the passengers to board.

At least 368 Canadians are stranded across the Caribbean in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Jose.

Government officials confirmed the number Monday, but said there could be more stranded Canadians who have not yet reached out for assistance. The majority of Canadians are in Sint Maarten and Turks and Caicos, with others scattered across the Bahamas, Antigua, Cuba, Dominican Republic, British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and St. Barthelemy.

“It is very hard for us to know the total number of Canadians affected, we can only go by the number of people who have reached out to us,” said Omar Alghabra, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The number of Canadians stranded in the U.S. will be determined in the next couple of days.

West Jet and Air Canada will be providing flights out of St. Martin and Turks and Caicos Monday night. A military jet will also be heading to the Caribbean later this week to pick up any Canadians left behind.

Michael Moriarty is still in survival mode, days after being hit by Hurricane Irma in St. Maarten and the “pure anarchy” that followed.

Moriarty and his wife are safe but shell-shocked following the hurricane.

“It hasn’t stopped,” Moriarty told the Star on Monday. “We’re on high alert.”

Now in Puerto Rico, Moriarty and his wife Meryl Zavitz expect to return to their Ajax home Monday evening.

“There’s so many Canadians and other nationalities still stuck there. It’s appalling. The looting has gotten even worse.”

Moriarty described looting and a shortage of food, water and medicine in St. Maarten, where they stayed at Simpson Bay Resort and Marina.

“I can’t describe the dire situation that everyone there is left in. We got unbelievably lucky twice; first to survive the hurricane and second to get picked out to get on a small little Caribbean airline.”

After the hurricane, Moriarty said the resort was the safest place to be. Still, a friend’s room was looted.

People evacuated from the French Caribbean island of Saint-Martin react as they walk after landing at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, north of Paris, on September 11, 2017. Almost 300 people were expected to arrive from Pointe-a-Pitre on the island of Guadeloupe aboard a military aircraft after their evacuation.

PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

People evacuated from the French Caribbean island of Saint-Martin react as they walk after landing at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, north of Paris, on September 11, 2017. Almost 300 people were expected to arrive from Pointe-a-Pitre on the island of Guadeloupe aboard a military aircraft after their evacuation.

“People were doing what they had to do to survive, at the expense of other people,” Moriarty said. “Which was the most traumatizing part.”

Moriarty and a friend travelled to a market that normally supplies cruises and yachts, where they were able to get the last two 24-packs of water and food.

They were approached by people carrying boards with nails, demanding their spot in line for food.

The couple attempted to fly out multiple times.

At Princess Juliana Airport in St. Maarten, Moriarty said Americans and EU citizens were prioritized.

“There was a lot of emotion, a lot of pleading, a lot of bargaining, making contracts with the devil’s soul, just to please, please, even just to take the children,” he recalled. “And it was, ‘sorry, we’re not allowed.’”

Three lines were formed on Sunday: one for EU citizens, one for Americans and one for everyone else – “the third class citizens, so to speak,” Moriarty said.

The couple, along with a few other Canadians, were evacuated free of charge by Seaborne Airlines.

“I didn’t believe it,” Moriarty said. “Honestly, I didn’t believe it.”

United Airlines provided a room for free Sunday night, and the couple paid for their flights out of Puerto Rico.

Moriarty is frustrated by the response by the Canadian government.

“The government has done nothing for us,” he said. “No information.”

Moriarty said people “should not be left to defend themselves in such a manner that destroys them.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed sympathy and solidarity Monday for those Canadians trapped in the Caribbean by the devastation wrought by hurricane Irma, as well as their worried family members at home.

Freeland, her government under siege from critics who say it has been slow to help, said the federal government is doing everything in its power to bring its citizens to safety and that she personally won't rest until the job is done.

“We are working very, very hard to bring you home,” Freeland told a briefing via conference call from Toronto.

“We are very aware of how frightening, how worrying this situation is, and I am not going to rest until everybody is back and safe.”

Some 390 people have been brought home over the weekend, and commercial flights will be returning to Toronto with the rest of those who have registered with Global Affairs Canada so far — about 150 people in St. Maarten and 90 in Turks and Caicos.

To request emergency assistance, Canadians can contact the Government of Canada at 1-613-996-8885, or sos@international.gc.ca .

With files from The Canadian Press

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