Montrealers at home and in Hurricane Irma's path brace for destruction

As Hurricane Irma continues to rip through the Caribbean, people with ties to places that have yet to be hit are tracking the storm’s devastation with trepidation and bracing for what’s to come.

Haitians remember impact of last year's Hurricane Matthew, while Floridians decide whether to stay or flee

Radio host Pierre Emmanuel said Haitians calling in to the station are watching the destruction Hurricane Irma is leaving in its wake, worried the storm may do the same to their home country. (Lauren McCallum/CBC)

As Hurricane Irma continues to rip through the Caribbean, residents of the places that have yet to be hit are tracking the storm's devastation with trepidation and bracing for what's to come.

So far, the death toll in the French Caribbean island territories of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy is eight, with 23 injured, but officials expect that number to rise.

Early Thursday morning, the storm was north of Punta Cana, moving west toward the rest of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Pierre Emmanuel, morning show host at Montreal's Haitian radio station CPAM, said between the footage of destruction on the other islands and Haitians' memories of the effects of last year's Hurricane Matthew, listeners who are calling are worried for their home country.

"We have a saying in Haiti, 'It takes a drop to flood the country,'" he said.

Hundreds of people died in last year's storm, and the hardest-hit areas of the country are still recovering, he said. A majority of schools there still haven't been rebuilt.

"People are extremely worried," he said, adding that many have already started sending money to their families back home.

Getting out of the way

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Florida residents are rushing to get ready for Irma's possible direct hit on the Miami area this weekend.

Former Montrealer Andreane Fagnan-Champagne lives in Miami. She and her family are trying to figure out whether they will stay or flee.

She said the highways are jammed, but heading north will be the principal option if a hurricane warning is issued for their area. They don't have anywhere to stay — the plan would be to try and outrun the storm.

"For now, we don't have any ideas. Just to get out of the way, we're just going to drive until we find something."
Florida residents are evacuating after a state of emergency was declared ahead of Hurricane Irma's expected arrival. (Erik S. Lesser/EPA-EFE)

Fagnan-Champagne said this will be her first experience of a hurricane, and she's worried about what she will return home to find. Supplies are hard to come by, she said.

'I thought I was going to die'

Emmanuel David was born in Montreal North and raised in Villeray, but he's lived in the Dominican Republic for 21 years.

He said in Punta Cana, where he is, there have been strong winds since last night but not much rain and no flooding. 

He lives in a middle-class neighbourhood, he explained, and the walls and roof of his home are made of concrete. In low-income areas, the homes are made of wood and the roofs are aluminum, which makes them more susceptible to damage.

"Of course people have been very worried, overall, we saw what happened with St. Martin that has been hit fully with the hurricane," he said.
Emmanuel David was born in Montreal North and raised in Villeray, but he's lived in Punta Cana for 21 years. He said the effects of Irma are closer to a tropical storm than a hurricane. (Submitted by Emmanuel David)

René H. Lépine, a Quebecer living in St. Martin, says the hurricane was the most terrifying experience of his life.

Lépine, a real estate developer, told The Canadian Press about a third of the houses on the island are uninhabitable. He has been without running for some 36 hours.

Lepine says a big concern now is that the island's main supply chain in Miami is about to get pounded by Irma and that Hurricane Jose, a second, weaker tropical storm, is expected to hit on Saturday.
People walk through damage in a sand-covered street of Marigot, near the Bay of Nettle, on the island of St. Martin in the northeast Caribbean, after the passage of Hurricane Irma. (Lionel Chamoiseau/AFP/Getty Images)

Another area that was directly hit by the storm was St. Barthelemy. Kevin Barrallon lives in Gustavia, the capital.

He said the storm hit in waves — first, bringing strong winds that intensified over a two-hour period, until they were in the eye, which brought an hour of calm.

But the last phase, he said, was the worst.

"It was so strong, I thought I was going to die," he told Radio-Canada's Gravel le matin.

There is a lot of damage, he said, especially to vegetation and coastal homes, and he's not sure how authorities will tackle the cleanup.

As far as he is concerned, hurricanes aren't something that anyone can truly prepare for, they are simply endured.

"It's really an incomprehensible event."

With files from Lauren McCallum, CBC's Daybreak, Radio-Canada and Canadian Press