Albertans holed up in Puerto Rico as Hurricane Irma slams Caribbean

Stocked up on bottled water and some non-perishable food, a group of Albertans studying in Puerto Rico hunker down in a dorm room as Hurricane Irma hits the Caribbean.

'As long as we have other people with us, we’re not alone, we’ll survive'

Hurricane Irma, seen from NASA's Terra satellite, was nearing the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday. (NASA Worldview)

Stocked up on bottled water and some non-perishable food, a group of Albertans studying in Puerto Rico spent Wednesday hunkered down in a dorm room as Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean.

Calgarian Aleena Ayaz, 25, a third-year optometry student at Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, is there along with her husband, Zain Abbas, 25, and roommate Tannu Prabhakar, 25, from Edmonton.

"At this point, the best thing for us is to stay put inside," Ayaz said in a phone interview with CBC News. "We're just staying put because we can't do anything. It's scary, especially being away from family. But as long as we have other people with us, we're not alone, we'll survive."

The eye of Hurricane Irma passed over the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda around midnight (MT) bringing heavy rain and howling winds that sent debris flying as people huddled in their homes or government shelters.

The group, along with a handful of other Canadian students, went to airport on Tuesday but found the departing flights were all full.

"We stayed at the airport for a long time but nothing was there," said Ayaz.

The forecast path of Hurricane Irma. (National Hurricane Center)

So the group collected as much water and food as they could and headed back to their dorm room, about an hour away from the airport.

"It was pretty busy," she said. "It was really crowded. Everyone was trying to leave and flights were overbooked."

Since then, they've been holed up at the school staying glued to whatever news they can find.

"We didn't expect a Category 5," said Ayaz. "Apparently that's the strongest one and the island has never experienced a Category 5. We stocked up on water and non-perishable food items, anything we could get, really."

The school has a generator, which was still running Wednesday afternoon, and a water tank.

"Everyone is together so we feel safe," said Ayaz. "There's no sense of panic. The storm is really close. It's starting to rain a lot here, but the winds aren't that bad right now."

With electricity still on and internet working, the group was updating family and friends back home through social media.

"We're hoping it passes the island before the day's end," said Ayaz. "We're expecting it to be here before the night."

Other Albertans stranded

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 295 km/h, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre. It said winds would likely fluctuate slightly, but the storm would remain at Category 4 or 5 strength for the next day or two.

Other Albertans have also found themselves stuck as the storm surges.

Calgarian Krista Zeidler reached out to CBC News from a resort in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Her flight home is scheduled to leave Thursday but she isn't sure that will happen.

Zeidler says she and several others are awaiting word from Air Canada.

They were told by resort staff they would be moved from their ground-floor room to a higher unit sometime on Wednesday, she says.

With files from Kate Adach