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

By Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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.

Video and photos from Saint Martin show the toll the storm took on the island. Watch below or click here.

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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.”

Meanwhile, the Canadian Forces has ordered a Halifax-based warship to be at the ready as the military plans for a potential response to Irma – the most potent Atlantic hurricane ever.

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.

The frigate HMCS St. John’s, which returned to Halifax six weeks ago after a six-month deployment in the Mediterranean Sea, has been identified to support any relief efforts.

The Canadian Red Cross said it has a presence in the area and is co-ordinating a response with other Red Cross teams.

Conrad Sauve, CEO of the Canadian Red Cross, said Irma is expected to leave hundreds of thousands of people in need of shelter, food, water and other assistance.

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