Newfoundland & Labrador

Trapped by Hurricane Irma: N.L. couple felt abandoned by Ottawa

Corner Brook couple say Canadian government didn't do enough in wake of devastating storm

Gary Moore - CBC News

September 16, 2017

'When we landed it was a tropical island, everything was green. When we looked out the window everything was brown now. There's no leaves left, no plants. Everything is gone,' recalled Chafe in the wake of Hurricane Irma. (Submitted/Adam Chafe)

It's a vacation to forget for Adam Chafe and his girlfriend Jennifer Brake. The western Newfoundland couple was stranded in St. Maarten when Hurricane Irma swept through the Caribbean island earlier this month.

They're angry and disappointed that the federal government provided them no assistance. 

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The couple arrived in St. Maarten just days before the hurricane struck. By the time they got word of how severe the impact could be, it was too late to find flights out of the area. Instead the couple sat in their hotel room while Irma destroyed much of the island.

"Terrifying is the way I can describe — just terrifying," said Brake, who added they spent the night of the hurricane huddled in their hotel bathroom, watching as water poured through the ceiling and spilled underneath the bathroom door of their eighth-floor room.

"The pressure in our room was so strong we couldn't even get the hotel room door open to get out of our room. It's something I never want to experience again in my life. Never."

The western Newfoundland couple were happy to land back in Newfoundland this week — and Jennifer's mother, Delphine Brake, right, was happy to welcome them back. (Facebook)

The couple is back home in Corner Brook this week, but they had a longer stay than they wanted in the aftermath of Irma.

Despite the relief of being home, the two say they were let down by their country for not getting them, and other Canadians, out sooner.

"It seemed like we were forgotten about, or the government was happy to let somebody else take care of it for them," said an emotional Chafe on the Corner Brook Morning Show

"They waited for the commercial flights to return to do their job, as far as I'm concerned."

Monitoring the situation

The Corner Brook couple waited in line at the airport — once flights started taking passengers off the island — for six hours only to be turned away at the front of the line after they were told no Canadian flights were coming to the area.

Instead they watched as other countries airlifted their citizens, while they had to head back to their hurricane-ravaged hotel.

"I would've given anything to get out of there — anything," says Brake. "We didn't even care how much it cost us to get home. We just wanted to get home."

The aftermath of Hurricane Irma will be felt by locals and visitors for quite some time. (Submitted/Adam Chafe)

The couple say they had no luck dealing with the Canadian embassy, or Global Affairs Canada.

Chafe says the response from government was "we're monitoring the situation," which the couple took to mean they were doing nothing.

They lined up again the following day at the airport, not knowing if they'd get off the island, and credit Sunwing Airlines for finally getting them away, after they were given seats on a flight to Punta Cana free of charge.

From there, they spent a night in the Dominican Republic and made arrangements to get back home. 

Let down

Now that the couple is safely back home, they're still wondering why their country let them down.

"I don't understand why Canada couldn't send down military planes, like what the U.S. was doing, just to get everybody out of there and to be safe," says Brake. 

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson from Global Affairs Canada said government is concerned and understands the frustration of Canadians in the region and their families at home.

Global Affairs said its staff have been trying to contact Canadians abroad since before the storms hit and have made thousands of calls, texts and emails.

The statement said two Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft safely delivered 66 Canadians from the Caribbean to Toronto Thursday night, bringing the total of successfully evacuated Canadians to 1,677.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Moore
CBC News

Gary Moore works with CBC's bureau in Corner Brook, and is heard frequently on the Corner Brook Morning Show.

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