September 12, 2017 8:42 pm
Updated: September 12, 2017 8:43 pm

Ontario family reunited after Hurricane Irma wreaks havoc on Caribbean

Their son just started medical school in St. Maarten, an island decimated by Hurricane Irma. Now after days of uncertainty, a Stouffville family has been reunited in Chicago. Shallima Maharaj has their story.

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A Stouffville mother is breathing a massive sigh of relief after reuniting with her son, who was stranded in St. Maarten for days after Hurricane Irma.

“The only thing we’ve heard was, ‘Mom, I’m okay,’ but until you really see it, you will not believe it until the moment you hug your child,” said Mila Bishev.

Mila and her husband Dennis drove from southern Ontario to the Chicago overnight to be with their 21-year-old son Daniel Bishev, who is a medical student at American University of the Caribbean.

Hundreds of students and staff sought refuge in a school building. Some slept on floors, others where they could find space.

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“There was a wet cadaver lab in it, so when temperatures started rising, smells started to get a little weird,” recounted Daniel.

School officials are meeting in Chicago to discuss what happens next.

“It looked like the whole island had been under an air strike. Buildings were toppling, concrete buildings destroyed, rubble, debris everywhere. No power, no running water,” he told Global News over Skype.

Daniel and his classmates contacted Global Affairs Canada looking for reassurance from Canadian officials.

“They kept saying they were monitoring the situation, but I don’t understand what they were monitoring,” he said.

“The destruction was evident. There was nothing to monitor. You need to get your people out.”

His school was able to charter a plane Monday and got about 100 students and staff to safety.

READ MORE: Families of stranded Canadians disappointed by government response to disaster

Global Affairs Canada told Global News three flights returned from Turks and Caicos and St. Maarten Tuesday night, bringing another 301 Canadians home. They have so far coordinated the return of 691 people through commercial planes.

How many remain in hurricane-ravaged zones remains has not been made clear.

“The majority of Canadians most affected have now come home,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland Tuesday.

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A letter was given to returning passengers at Toronto Pearson International Airport. Many arrived after flight delays early Tuesday morning.

“I said in the note, I think my words were that I was very sorry for their ordeal – which I am,” said Freeland.

Pressed further on whether more could have been done, she said officials will be meeting.

READ MORE: Hurricane Irma destroyed 25 per cent of homes in Florida Keys, FEMA says

“We will be talking among ourselves and also we’re keen to hear from the people affected about their views on what we might do better, if God forbid, there is a next time.”

An additional statement sent to Global News by Global Affairs states in part “as airports resume operations and flights can get in and out, we are coordinating with our international partners and airlines to aid in the evacuation.”

They also advise anyone in need of emergency consular assistance to contact their nearest Canadian government office or Global Affairs Canada’s 24-hour emergency watch and response centre in Ottawa at 613-996-8885. Emails can be sent to sos@international.gc.ca.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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