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'It's insane out here': Canadians desperate to help relatives stranded in Dominica

Local families are growing increasingly concerned for the safety of their relatives stranded on the hurricane-ravaged Caribbean island of Dominica without enough food, water, power and no way of leaving.

Canadian students on the island have to 'scavenge for food and water,' families say

Nadia Araujo, right, is worried about her sister Denise, left, who is stranded in Roseau, Dominica following Hurricane Maria. (Submitted)

Local families are growing increasingly concerned for the safety of their relatives stranded in hurricane-ravaged Dominica without enough food, water, power and no way of leaving.

One Toronto woman, Nadia Araujo, says her sister Denise, a student at All Saints Medical School, is stuck there.

"This island is completely destroyed, no water no light. We're scavenging for food and water. It's insane out here. We're waiting to see what will happen. Hopefully we'll be rescued," read the text Araujo received from her sister on Wednesday.

Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, tore through Dominica Monday night, causing extensive damage to the Caribbean island nation. The country's prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, described the impact as "mind-boggling" devastation.

Araujo spoke to CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Thursday, her voice shaking as she described the limited updates she was receiving from her sister. 

People 'carrying machetes with them'

"She sent me a text message at 7 p.m (Wednesday) saying that she's turning off her phone and that she'd turn it on in the morning," she said. "I haven't heard from her … so hopefully nothing happened to her during the night. I've been text messaging, telling her I'm doing everything I can to help her get out."

Another Canadian, Anis Farooqi, was also left wondering about the condition of his son Adil, who is a student at Ross University on the island.

"We were totally disconnected. No communication of any sort. No snapchats, no whatsapp, no phone calls whatsoever," Farooqi told CBC News.

Anis Farooqi's son, a student at Ross University in Dominica, is stranded in the hurricane-ravaged island as safety concerns grow. (CBC)

Farooqi last heard from his son on Thursday but was able to get in touch with the university, which confirmed that Adil was safe.

But surviving the hurricane is only the first challenge. Farooqi is also worried about reports of looting and shooting in the area.

'Every parent wants to go there'

Nadia Araujo echoes these concerns. She says students, including her sister, were told by local police to remain inside because people are "carrying machetes with them trying to rob others of their food."

"Every parent at the moment wants to go there and hold their kids hands and bring them home," Farooqi said in an interview.

"But I think it's wiser at the moment to leave things to the authorities because we don't want to make things worse by ending up in a place where we should not be."

Global Affairs Canada says 201 Canadians have requested assistance to depart since Hurricane Maria tore through the region; 188 of those are on Dominica.

The agency says it is aware of the Canadian students from both Ross University and All Saints University who need assistance.

"We have been working with the Ross University, which will evacuate all their students to St. Lucia by boats, starting today and over a few days, conditions permitting. In St. Lucia, they will meet a consular official and board commercial flights back home," Global Affairs spokesperson Philip Hannan told CBC Toronto in an email Thursday.

Roommates Silvia Vilas Boas, left, and Denise Araujo, right, say they have had to loot stores for food and water in Dominica. (Submitted)

He said the quickest way out for students from All Saints University is through the school evacuations but they are also looking into other options to make sure all Canadians who want to can depart.

They will be able to do so as soon as the local infrastructure is safe and local authorities allow it, including boat charters and "use of our military assets," Global Affairs said.

Canadians who have family and friends in the area requiring assistance are asked to contact Global  Affairs Canada immediately.

"It is critical we are made aware of any and all leads," said Hannan. 


Ramna Shahzad

Producer, CBC Toronto

Ramna Shahzad is a multi-media producer and reporter in the CBC Toronto newsroom. She began working at CBC News in 2015 as a Joan Donaldson Scholar. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, she now calls Toronto home and writes about everything from transit and city hall to baby animal births at the zoo

With files from Metro Morning