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Worried Canadians are frantically trying to get in touch with friends and relatives trapped in the wake of Hurricane Irma, after it hit the Leeward Islands in the West Indies.
A Category 5, the strongest hurricane there is, Irma has cut a swath through the Caribbean for several days, killing at least 22 people, downing power, destroying buildings and causing massive flooding.
Irma flattened Barbuda, to the north of Antigua, and both the French-Dutch island of St. Martin/St. Maarten and Anguilla, which lie to the east of the Virgin Islands.
Morvarid Sanandaji, a 24-year-old medical student from Toronto, is trapped in St. Maarten where she studies.
“Right now, honestly, there is no island of St. Maarten,” Sanandaji told the Star on Friday. “There is no structure on this island right now that you would be able to live in.”
She’s keeping shelter along with around 600 students, faculty and their families at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, awaiting evacuation.
When the hurricane went through the island Wednesday, Sanandaji described a scene of “sheer terror.”
“Not a lot of people were talking . . . . Everybody was waiting for it to pass. I know there were people who were panicking,” she said.
Injuries range from cuts from shattered glass to sprained ankles to broken legs, and people are still missing, Sanandaji said.
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Sanandaji resorted to using a rental car she and some others found to go out and secure provisions. Its windows were blown in, and the doors had caved, but it had to do.
“As much stuff as we could fit in the car, we were just trying to get back to the building,” she said.
Geeta Wadehra can’t stop calling the Global Affairs Canada crisis line out of concern for three friends, who are trapped in a St. Maarten condo, unsure how to get food or water.
“The one time they tried to leave the apartment they witnessed a robbery,” said Wadehra, who has been able to reach her friends over the phone intermittently.
Wadehra’s friends noticed a Dutch military presence, but told her they haven’t received guidance about how to get out of the destroyed island.
In Brewers Bay, Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, about 150 kilometres to the east of Puerto Rico, 59-year-old Anita Gulliver is safe, but her exact whereabouts are unknown, her daughter Natalie told the Star.
“The most that I know is that I got a text message with a photograph of a note that someone had written saying that she was safe,” Natalie said. “I have no further information; I’m hoping that she’s safe.”
The last time Natalie talked to Gulliver, a Toronto expat now living in the Caribbean, her mother was sheltered in a shower.
“It was a very emotional phone call,” Natalie said. “A lot of goodbyes. We weren’t sure that we were going to ever see each other again.
“At that point, the wind was already blowing and they were already terrified. And we were still, like, six hours away from the eye of the storm actually hitting them,” Natalie said.
Michael Moriarty and his wife, Meryl Zacitz, were vacationing in St. Maarten when the storm hit, and have only been able to contact family intermittently.
“Please contact the Canadian consulate and tell them we’re stuck in Simpson Bay Resort and that we are stranded and they need to rescue us,” Moriarty wrote in a text message to his sister, Monique Balmforth.
“We are very frightened right now and don’t know what’s going on or what’s happened,” Balmforth said.
Natasha Nystrom, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said in a statement that the government is updating its travel advisories page, and sending affected Canadians messages over email, text and social media.
The storm raged past Cuba’s northern coast Friday toward the Bahamas and Florida, threatening the state with destruction not seen in a generation. The crush to leave Florida had millions of people on the move. Highways were jammed, gas was scarce, airports were packed and mandatory evacuations began to roll out as the first official hurricane watches were issued for the region, which could face destruction not seen since Category 5 Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
“They need to get out and listen and heed the warnings.”
Toronto resident Gail Rutherford was stranded in Ft. Lauderdale Friday after her flight back to Toronto was cancelled.
The area where she had been staying was evacuated, so when she spoke to The Star Friday she was staying in her mom’s hospital room, unable to leave, she said, because she wouldn’t be allowed to reenter the closed hospital.
“For the next four days, I am going to sleep in a chair and eat bananas and apples I cleaned out from the cafeteria,” she said.
She thought about the scores of people she saw at the airport, just trying to get out safely before Irma hits.
“There are lineups outside the airport of people standing with their suitcases.”
Those on islands already devastated by Irma hope for safety and to rebuild their houses.
But some are grieving over the loss of loved ones.
On Barbuda, a coral island rising a mere 38 metres above sea level, authorities ordered an evacuation of all 1,400 people to neighbouring Antigua, where Stevet Jeremiah was reunited with one son and made plans to bury another.
Jeremiah, who sells lobster and crab to tourists, was huddled in her wooden home on Barbuda early Wednesday with her partner and their 2- and 4-year-old boys, as Irma ripped open their metal roof and sent the ocean surging into the house.
Her younger son, Carl Junior Francis, was swept away.
Neighbours found his body after sunrise.
“Two years old. He just turned 2, the 17th, last month. Just turned 2,” she repeated. Her first task, she said, would be to organize his funeral.
“That’s all I can do. There is nothing else I can do.”
With files from The Washington Post, The Canadian Press and Orlando Sentinel