Surrey resident Manpreet Takhi and fellow Canadian students stranded in St. Maarten, waiting in the scorching sun outside the airport for a chance to catch a flight home. (Photo: Submitted)

Government letting Canadians down, hurricane stranded say

Local residents are among the stranded. Despite frustration, Surrey Liberal MP says help’s on the way

Canadians stranded abroad by Hurricane Irma say their government has let them down.

But John Aldag, Liberal MP for Cloverdale-Langley City, said the cavalry is on its way.

“It’s sounds like there’s a huge push to get Canadians out of the Caribbean today,” Aldag said Monday. “It sounds like they have been able to resolve some of the issues that happened over the weekend for having Canadians exit so Global Affairs is working very closely with various countries affected and Canadians who are in these countries, to try and get them on planes today. There will be initiatives throughout the week.”

Hundreds of Canadians at press time were still seeking rescue from Caribbean islands that were hit hard by the hurricane. Among the stranded were local residents.

Balraj Mann, a director on Surrey’s Board of Trade, is stuck in Cuba and said he hopes to return home today (Wednesday). He went there on vacation with three friends and was set to fly home Saturday morning but “Air Canada decided to not come and pick up the passengers.

“Then the hurricane hit and the power and everything is out,” Mann told the Now-Leader. Then, he was supposed to fly out Sunday. Then, a United flight on Monday got cancelled.

“They say Wednesday. It’s so frustrating. There’s nothing happening at the airport. There’s all kinds of people waiting inside and outside.”

READ ALSO: As Hurricane Irma spins, Cuba evacuates

At press time, Mann and his friends were in Havana, at Hotel Saratoga. His daughter got stuck in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, on account of the Hurricane.

“She was studying dentistry there, but got evacuated.”

As for the Trudeau government’s effort to rescue the stranded Canadians, Mann said Monday, “So far I’m not too impressed. They know people are here.”

“The government needs to do something better to respond to these crises,” Mann said.

“The U.S. is doing a lot better. We didn’t get much help from our government.”

“I’m glad we have no small children with us,” he added. Where he is, he said, there’s no water to flush toilets.

“Every toilet seat you see is full of urine, feces and whatever, right. I’m kind of afraid some of these places are going to have health issues if they don’t clean up.”

The hurricane, in a word, was “scary.”

Mann described falling trees, and waves “jumping” over a seawall. “The whole street, for a couple of blocks, was just full of water, up to three, four, five feet high so they had to evacuate the people from hotels.”

Anita Hubermann, CEO of Surrey Board of Trade, said she spoke with Global Affairs Canada – which manages the nation’s diplomatic and consular relations – on Mann’s behalf.

“They said they would be calling Balraj,” she said. “Balraj is not only a work colleague but he is also a friend and so obviously I’m concerned about him and we want him home safely and that’s why I’m doing everything I can to utilize my connections through government, even through the navy, so see if they can help but it’s a difficult situation because the airport is closed in Cuba for two days at least, and everything is in a bit of chaos. The Canadian consulate in Cuba is closed, evacuated.”

Meantime, Panorama Ridge resident Aman Takhi hoped his brother Manpreet Takhi would “maybe” be flying out of St. Maarten on Monday, with WestJet. Manpreet was studying medicine there.

“It’s his first semester,” Aman said. “He went to school for one day, and then the hurricane came and destroyed the whole country. It’s in ruins.”

“It’s been a frustrating six days. We contacted our MPs, MLAs, premier, Justin Trudeau, the defence minister and foreign affairs minister. They have directed us to Global Affairs Canada to register my brother’s name there so he’s on the list of Canadians that want to be evacuated,” Aman said. “We did that immediately without an issue. Now, we’ve been contacting Global Affairs Canada on a regular basis and all they’ve kept saying, every single day, was ‘We’re assessing the situation, we’re following the news carefully, we’re making sure our Canadians are safe.’ That was their answer every single time. There was no sign of how the Canadian government’s going to help with evacuation.”

Manpreet could not be reached for comment.

“He’s stuck there with 30-plus Canadian citizens, students, 30 or more,” Aman said Monday.

“We just feel like we’re left in the dark right now,” Aman said. “On Saturday morning the U.S. military came in and took every U.S. student, who has a valid U.S. passport, and evacuated them from the building. All the Canadians and other nationalities were left behind, waiting for their governments to do something.”

“Everyone’s just desperate to get home. They’re sleep-deprived.”

As for the U.S. beating Canada to the punch, Aldag said, “In reality, there’s the geography. The Americans are closer, and frankly, they’re everywhere. It does take countries such as ours a bit of time to mobilize. There have been efforts reaching out. It takes time and we’re working as quickly as we can.”

Aldag advises any Canadians with family members in the Caribbean to register with Global Affairs for help by calling collect 1-613-996-8885.

“I also think there’s a greater conversation we need to have with these countries,” Aldag told the Now-Leader. “It’s not just about getting our Canadians out, which is a huge priority, but it’s going to be how do we work with the affected communities, with all this massive devastation, in the rebuilding efforts. I think we need to be prepared to enter right into those conversations.”

Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole said Monday the Liberal government’s effort to help the stranded Canadians has been “inadequate to date.

“We are concerned that the government has not responded quickly enough to help stranded Canadians return home given the magnitude of the destruction from these storms and the impact on infrastructure on these islands,” O’Toole said. “We are asking them to deploy Royal Canadian Air Force assests immediately to retrieve stranded Canadians who are facing delays in returning home. We also believe Canada should focus rapid support to countries severely impacted by these storms.”

tom.zytaruk@ surreynowleader.com

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Surrey Board of Trade director Balraj Mann is stranded in Cuba after Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean nation. (Photo: Submitted)

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