Nova Scotia

Canadian struggling to get home after Irma batters St. Martin

Halifax resident Robin Berman is trying to help her sister who is stuck on the Caribbean island.

Halifax resident trying to help sister stuck on the Caribbean island get back to Canada

A photo taken on September 6, 2017 shows destroyed palm trees, outside the "Mercure" hotel in Marigot, on the Bay of Nettle, on the island of Saint-Martin in the northeast Caribbean, after the passage of Hurricane Irma. (Lionel Chamoiseau/AFP/Getty Images)

Much has changed in the past 18 hours for Robyn Berman, a Halifax woman who is trying to get her sister Jo Shulman back to Canada after Hurricane Irma blew through St. Martin on Wednesday.

The two sisters were able to talk on the phone several times on Sunday for a couple of minutes each call, planning the best way to get her off the Caribbean Island and get her back home to Ottawa.

"She is doing OK, she is frustrated, she's tired. She's less anxious than when I spoke to her for the first time on Friday. She's just looking for some directive," said Berman.

Berman said she plans to speak with her sister on Monday morning to give her advice. 

Risky to leave

Berman said her sister lives in the Colombier area on the French side of the island, whose territory is divided between the Netherlands (St. Maarten) and France (St. Martin). The storm did not destroy Shulman's apartment, but it doesn't have electricity.

Leaving the apartment could prove risky, Berman said. 

In terms of options, should Berman's sister leave her apartment, she could go to a shelter on the French side of the island, a shelter on the Dutch side of the island or go to the airport on the Dutch side.

A photo taken on September 7, 2017 shows damage in Orient Bay on the French Caribbean island of Saint-Martin, after the passage of Hurricane Irma. (Lionel Chamoiseau/AFP/Getty Images)

"The problem for my sister is she is so far away from all of that, she would either have to hitchhike or beg someone she knows to get a ride over to the Dutch side and that may take all day. And then they have a curfew," said Berman.

"So she has to be very cognizant of the choices she makes around her travel arrangements."

'She's trying to survive'

Berman is also frustrated about dealing with Global Affairs Canada, which she said has not been helpful in giving her advice for where her sister should go.

Government officials said so far 296 Canadians have reached out to the Canadian government for help in the wake of the storm.

Berman said at this point, she will be telling her sister to take her personal belongings and her passport to get to the airport on the Dutch side of the island.

If she isn't able to get back to Canada that way, Berman said the next best thing for her sister to do would be to go back to her apartment and wait it out.

"She's frustrated because she's trying to survive. I'm frustrated because I'm here and able and trying to do the very best that I can to get her a plan to get out and I feel like I'm on my own trying to do that," said Berman.

"I don't feel like there's any kind of community from Global Affairs Canada to say, 'We got her name, send her to this location' ... but there's just absolutely none of that communication or directive coming from them."

Irma hits Florida

Parts of Florida were dealing with Irma by Sunday afternoon.

Margaret Graham, who has lived most of her life in Nova Scotia, manages a retirement village of about 300 mobile homes in Lake Placid.

Margaret Graham, who has lived most of her life in Nova Scotia, manages a retirement village of about 300 mobile homes in Lake Placid, FL. (Submitted by Margaret Graham)

Although many of the residents left before the storm hit, more than 30 stayed behind to wait out the storm in the village's clubhouse.

"The winds are really, really picking up and we're not into the worst of it yet. But the trees are [bending] over crazily and it's a lot of wind and rain right now," said Graham.

A look inside the club house at the retirement village Margaret Graham manages. (Submitted by Margaret Graham)

Graham said the clubhouse can withstand a Category 3 hurricane, but she said the windows are not reinforced "so we're just afraid something could come flying through the windows, that's the concern right now."

"We're just all hunkered down here, everybody has food and water and we have a big screen TV, we have generators that will back up just about everything in here," said Graham.

About the Author

Anjuli Patil


Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.