Toronto

'Dear God, please keep everyone safe': Canadians plead for government to evacuate loved ones in St. Maarten

A Toronto medical student who narrowly escaped the devastation of Hurricane Irma is pleading with the federal government to do more to help more than 30 other Canadian students stranded the island nation of St. Maarten — and he's not alone.

As the threat of yet another monster storm looms over the island, pleas are mounting for Canada to act

The Canadian government has said it is making 'every available effort to assist Canadian citizens affected by Hurricane Irma.' (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/Associated Press)

A Toronto medical student who narrowly escaped the devastation of Hurricane Irma is pleading with the federal government to do more to help more than 30 other Canadian students stranded on the island nation of St. Maarten — and he's not alone.

Aamir Saiyed says he was one of the lucky ones. The student at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine managed to board one of the last flights out to Canada before the deadly storm hit.

But while he's now safe in Toronto, tens of others remained holed up at the school on the small island whose airport has been severely damaged, awaiting the threat of yet another monster storm: Hurricane Jose.

Desperate to get them rescued before that happens, Saiyed has taken to social media with an open letter to the Prime Minister:

"Dear PM Justin Trudeau," reads a posting to Facebook. "I urgently need your help in coordinating the return of my colleagues and other Canadians stranded on Sint Maarten to Canada."

'Food and water are running low'

"My colleagues (and some of their family members) have been sheltered along with the rest of the student body at a Category 5 proof building on campus since September 4. The building has sustained minimal damage, but the conditions on the island will further deteriorate as supplies of food and water are running low."

Speaking to CBC Toronto on Saturday, Saiyed detailed the harrowing hours before the storm hit as he and four of his friends scrambled to find a flight out. With few in sight, the plan had been to head to a shelter.

But then Saiyed spotted a Sunwing flight originally scheduled to leave Thursday, had been moved up to Tuesday. Their chances were slim. The American Airlines flights a day prior were completely sold out.

They took their chances anyway.

"As we got near to the front of the line, they announced last boarding call for Sunwing to YYZ and we were told the flight was full. Dejected, we were about to leave," he said.

Aamir Saiyed (middle) managed to board one of the last flights to Canada from St. Maarten before Hurricane Irma struck. But more than 30 of his colleagues remain holed up at the school on the small island, awaiting yet another monster storm: Hurricane Jose. (Submitted by Aamir Saiyed)

But Saiyed decided to ask one last time. The words, "Sir we are still checking, please wait," brought hope.

Within a few minutes, came good news. The five of them plus two more were told they could board and found themselves sprinting towards the gates. They got out in the nick of time.

'Like a bomb had gone off'

The island has since declared a state of emergency and Saiyed is filled with concern about what the next few hours will bring for his friends.

"I am getting word that U.S. military is already there evacuating U.S. citizens. Canada needs to do the same," he told CBC News. "Hurricane Jose is expected to hit today so we want Canadian students and other American students and staff out of the danger and back home to safety."

He told me it looked like a bomb had gone off and people are walking around in shock. Already the looting has started- Kimberley Babin

Not far from the medical school, Todd Chisholm, a teacher with the Caribbean International Academy, is also bracing for Jose. Worried sick back in Niagara, Ont., Chisholm's family can only get him on the phone for about 30 seconds at a time.

"It's just enough to say a few words and then it gets disconnected," his partner Kimberley Babin told CBC News. "He just told me the place looked like a war zone, he told me it looked like a bomb had gone off and people are walking around in shock. Already the looting has started, immediately on the island, and it was very, very unsafe."

CBC News caught Chisholm during those few seconds when his phone had reception Saturday.

He described the mood among Canadians there as "hopeful" and "grateful."

"But there's a bit of fear of how many days can we last on the supplies we have, knowing on other parts of the island there's pretty nasty things going on," he said. "We're in safe zone right now but how long that safe zone will last, we're not sure."

Chisholm's mother says they've been awaiting word from the Canadian consulate about an evacuation plan, but that so far there's been little word. 

The Canadian government has said it is making "every available effort to assist Canadian citizens affected by Hurricane Irma."

Feeling helpless

In a statement Friday night, Global Affairs spokesperson Natasha Nystrom said the government is closely following the situation and keeping Canadians updated through travel advisories online and via text. The Emergency Watch and Response Centre has processed over 500 calls and over 120 emails related to the hurricane already.

Todd Chisholm's family feels helpless and hopes there's something the government can do to help those stranded flee before Hurricane Jose hits. (CBC)

Meanwhile Dianne Chisholm is watching with bated breath.

"You're on the internet all the time, trying to get the latest news," said Chisholm, adding she fears that as Irma approaches Florida, that will be the focus, leaving those in St. Maarten on the backburner. 

In the meantime, she says, the family feels helpless and hopes there's something the government can do to help those stranded flee before the next  storm.

"The difficult thing is they've been through a lot of stress," Chisholm said of her son and his fellow teachers. "If we can't get some help from the Canadian government... I'm not sure what we can do," she added.

"Dear God, please keep everyone safe," Babin posted on her Facebook page. 
 

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