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Quebecer who survived Irma calls it terrifying; Canadian frigate on standby

September 07, 2017 - 2:56 PM

A Quebec man living on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin is calling hurricane Irma the most terrifying experience of his life after 300-km/h winds ripped the roof off his house and others in the same complex.

The Category 5 storm left disaster in its wake Wednesday when it hit Saint Martin, where Rene H. Lepine has lived permanently for four years running a real-estate development.

Before that, Lepine had been a frequent visitor to the island — his wife and extended family are from the area.

But nothing could prepare him for the fury of Irma.

"It was the most terrifying experience of my life, to put it mildly," he told The Canadian Press in a Facebook conversation Thursday as he used a gas generator to keep his phone charged.

"You realize how powerless you are to circumstances and, other than having prepared yourself for the event, that's all you can do.

"This thing was of epic proportions and it was just totally overwhelming."

He took shelter at a brother-in-law's home, surrounded by cliffs, with no breeze or view of the ocean.

"Well, that's what actually saved us," he said. "We were under the wind and we survived it here."

The 298-km/h winds blew the roof off his own home and others in the same complex.

"You have to realize once the roof was gone, we got 40 inches (100 centimetres) of rain," Lepine said.

He said about a third of the homes on Saint Martin are now uninhabitable and that the island hasn't had water in about 36 hours because of damaged reservoirs.

Irma's path of devastation across the northern Caribbean left at least 10 dead and thousands homeless after destroying buildings and uprooting trees on a track Thursday that could lead to a catastrophic strike on Florida.

Lepine said a big concern now is that the island's main supply chain in Miami is about to get pounded and that another, somewhat weaker hurricane, Jose, is expected to hit Saint Martin on Saturday.

The airport has sustained critical damage and ships aren't coming to the island with the ports inoperative.

Lepine said supermarkets, hardware and other box stores had their roofs ripped off and can't resupply.

"How do we get by the next three weeks?," Lepine asked. "I'm sure in a month, there will be some measures put in place, containers will start coming in and the airport will be operational again."

In Kelowna, B.C., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about the hurricane as he attended a Liberal caucus retreat.

''We're thinking hard about everyone who's affected by hurricane Irma, particularly the families of people who have lost loved ones during this terrible disaster," Trudeau said.

"We know that hurricane Irma is not over and we are advising all Canadians in the path of this storm to be prepared and to have a plan and, most importantly, follow the advice of local authorities.''

In other hurricane-related developments Thursday:

— Six members of the Quebec legislature who were in Haiti on a co-operation mission were finally able to leave the country. They had been scheduled to leave earlier in the day but those plans were derailed when the airport in Port-au-Prince was shut down temporarily.

— The Canadian Forces ordered a Halifax-based warship to be at the ready as the military plans for a potential response to Irma. The Canadian military said it is "conducting prudent military planning and preparations to be in position to support any potential relief efforts" if Ottawa orders a response.

— And Toronto-Dominion Bank said it is closing all 81 of its branches in South Florida in preparation for the arrival of Irma. The bank said the decision was made for the safety of its employees and customers based on the severity of storm forecasts.

— With files from Patrice Bergeron in Quebec City and Joan Bryden in Kelowna, B.C.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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