Canada Quebecers decry Ottawa's slow response to aid Canadians in Caribbean

16:08  12 september  2017
16:08  12 september  2017 Source:   The Gazette

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For Kamy Apkarian, the frantic scrambling started a week ago, two days before Hurricane Irma reached Saint Martin. Apkarian’ s younger sister, Tenny, 26, was on the Dutch side of the Caribbean island vacationing with two friends.

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For Kamy Apkarian, the frantic scrambling started a week ago, two days before Hurricane Irma reached Saint Martin.

Apkarian’s younger sister, Tenny, 26, was on the Dutch side of the Caribbean island vacationing with two friends. Trying to get her home to Montreal before the storm hit, Kamy searched for any flights leaving the island.

But her attempts fell short: every commercial flight was already booked, and emergency evacuation flights hadn’t started. Last-effort calls to private jet companies also failed.

Then last Wednesday, the storm ravaged Saint Martin, levelling buildings and devastating entire communities. For the next 24 hours, Tenny’s family heard nothing.

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A scrambled call finally came early Friday morning — “We’re OK. We can’t talk, but we’re OK and we’re together” — but led to another 48 hours of silence.

“The helplessness was completely debilitating,” Kamy said on Monday. “We couldn’t do anything.”

As of Monday, the three friends were among other Quebecers still stuck in the Caribbean following the hurricane, leading to increased calls for help from all levels of government.

At a news conference in St-Hyacinthe Monday morning, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard called for patience and understanding.

“I would like to tell you we can go get them today. If it was my family, that’s what I would want,” he told reporters. “But the fact is weather conditions and damage is making that very, very difficult.”

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Kamy next heard from her sister after the group managed to find the Canadian consulate in Saint Martin and borrowed a satellite phone. With every shelter on the island already full, Tenny explained, they had been set up in a Dutch couple’s home with other stranded visitors.

On Sunday morning, after being refused aboard a departing Sunwing flight, the friends made a last desperate plea to American authorities at the airport — they had run out of food Saturday, were now short on water, and out of options.

They were loaded onto a U.S. military plane heading for San Juan. Back in Montreal, family members booked them a flight to Montreal from Panama through Copa Airlines. They were expected to land in Montreal by midnight Monday.

Though she was happy her sister was finally returning home, Kamy said she felt abandoned by Canadian authorities throughout the process.

“There was absolutely no assistance from the Canadian government,” she said. “Not only have they not done anything proactive to get our Canadian citizens out, but they haven’t done any effort to address the families here.”

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Yves Goulet, whose childhood friend, Daniel Boissonneault, lived a similar experience in Saint Martin, said the same.

Boissonneault had rented a condo for 10 days on the island. He tried to leave before the hurricane, but also couldn’t find a flight out. Without water or electricity in the building after the worst of the storm, he found refuge in a French shelter.

Goulet registered Boissonneault as a disaster victim with Global Affairs Canada, but said he never heard back from anyone. On Sunday, Boissonneault was loaded onto a U.S. military plane — probably the same flight Tenny was on — and taken to Puerto Rico. He was expected to take a commercial flight back to Quebec by Tuesday.

“They never communicated. They never said anything. They never did anything,” Goulet said of government officials.

On Monday, the federal government announced it was sending a military plane to the Caribbean to bring back anyone who couldn’t get aboard a commercial flight.

During a conference call briefing, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the federal government is doing everything in its power to help.

“We are working very, very hard to bring you home,” she said. “We are very aware of how frightening, how worrying this situation is, and I am not going to rest until everybody is back and safe.”

With files from La Presse Canadienne.

jfeith@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/jessefeith

Home at last: 1st planeload of Canadians evacuated from Caribbean arrives in Toronto .
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