Ottawa family learns hurricane-stranded daughter on plane home to Canada

An Ottawa man who lost contact with his daughter on Saint Martin, one of the Caribbean islands hardest-hit by Hurricane Irma, has learned she's now safely on a plane home to Canada.

Joey Schulman 'lost everything' when hurricane hit Caribbean island Wednesday, father says

Joey Schulman's family had lost contact with her after Hurricane Irma struck Saint Martin last week. On Monday the family learned she had boarded a WestJet plane home to Canada.

An Ottawa man who was desperate for news after losing contact with his daughter on Saint Martin, one of the Caribbean islands hardest-hit by Hurricane Irma, has now learned she's on a plane home to Canada.

Barry Schulman received a text message late Monday afternoon that his daughter Joey, 43, had boarded a WestJet Airlines flight to Toronto.

Schulman said she had lost her home and business when Irma, since downgraded to a tropical storm, struck Saint Martin Wednesday.

Before the text message, Schulman had last spoken to his daughter on Sunday afternoon when she called in a panic from a shelter on the island.

"She was directed by Global Affairs [Canada] to go to a shelter in Saint Martin, and from there she was supposed to catch a flight home. But she hitchhiked there and there was nobody there," said Schulman.

Schulman said his daughter used a stranger's cell phone to contact him, but they were interrupted when the call dropped. When he tried to call her back there was no answer.

Schulman said at the time the family was "extremely worried for her safety."

"She's a woman alone. There are six or seven other people with her, but in order to go anywhere they have to hitchhike. The roads are blocked by the army and there's a lot of looting going on. God knows what can happen."
Barry Schulman, who manages an Ottawa grocery store, was desperate for news from his daughter, who lost her home and business when Hurricane Irma struck the island. (CBC)

Hell on earth

The tropical paradise, which is divided between French and Dutch control, has been transformed into a hell on earth for residents and tourists alike.

Schulman said his daughter tried to get a flight off the island before the hurricane hit, but wasn't able to. Instead, she reassured her family in Ottawa that she had stocked up on food and water and planned to wait out the storm.
Joey Schulman's small Mexican restaurant near Cul-de-Sac Bay in Saint Martin, shown before it was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. (Facebook)

On Wednesday, the tiny island nation suffered a direct hit from Hurricane Irma before getting sideswiped by Hurricane Jose three days later. Homes have been flattened and power cut off. Now both French and Dutch authorities are struggling to maintain order amid looting and lawlessness. 

Schulman said his daughter has lost everything, including the small Mexican restaurant she owned on the island.

"It got destroyed so there's nothing left for her there. She just wants to get home," Schulman said.

Airline sending planes

On Monday WestJet Airlines announced it was sending a plane to Saint Martin to collect some of those affected by the storm, including a limited number of non-ticketed passengers who are stranded on the island.

Flight 4906 was scheduled to depart the island at approximately 5 p.m. ET and arrive in Toronto later Monday evening. The airline said priority would be given to children, families and vulnerable people.

Schulman, who received a Facebook message from WestJet about the flight, said both he and his wife sent text messages to their daughter.

Schulman had said even if his daughter was able to make it to the airport, she might not be allowed to board the plane.

At around 5 p.m., however, he received confirmation that she was safely on board.