Families Worry As Americans Remain Stranded In Caribbean After Irma

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Thousands of families in the U.S. are desperately trying to contact family members in Hurricane Irma’s path of destruction.

The recovery effort on St. Maarten is expected to take months after the island was almost completely destroyed, many homes and schools were knocked down by the storm, and hotels suffered severe damage.

Island officials said St. Maarten will likely lose its tourist season because of Irma.

There are still many Americans stranded on the island, and with the Caribbean bracing for Hurricane Jose, it’s not clear when they’ll be able to leave.

The devastation makes you wonder who could possibly still be there, but New Yorker Scott Imbrosciano and his girlfriend Lauren Stallworth are among those stranded.

“It’s hard to grasp what’s going on down there has a major effect on someone important to me and my life,” he told CBS2’s Valerie Castro.

He said the couple arrived on the island on Saturday — unable to get an earlier flight out, they rode out the hurricane in a concrete bunker with other hotel guests staying at the Sonesta Resort.

“He told me that the main door to the bunker flew open, and some guy went flying out, and they were basically able to catch him and pull him back in,” he said, “There was like a 10 minute window where he thought for sure they were going to die.”

They survived and have since been packed into conference rooms with more than 300 people.

Another New Yorker, Tiffany Bunker found shelter at a hotel that was left partially standing.

“One hotel that we could have gone to, across the street is wiped away, every single floor has been dismantled,” she said, “I cannot even describe or imagine going through this and to be on the verge of it again is absolutely terrifying.”

With almost every building decimated and the airport control tower wiped out, all commercial flights have been suspended. Only military and humanitarian planes are able to bring supplies, and things are getting desperate.

“No showers, no AC, no real running water, they were using bags for bathrooms and they were rationing food,” one person said.

CBS2’s Jessica Moore spoke with two women whose parents are both in St. Maarten, looking for a way home.

Tabetha Pares made another unsuccessful call to St. Maarten on Friday.

“Trying really hard not to freak out,” she said.

Pares’ mother and father were among the 309 people living in a conference room at Sonesta Ocean Point Resort in St. Maarten. They were stranded with a limited supply of food and water, and with most commercial flights off the island canceled for up to six weeks, Pares was getting desperate Friday.

“We’re reaching out to embassies. We’re reaching out to news. We’re reaching family; friends that live close by in different islands to see what we can do; what our options are. If we can get a small plane or charter a boat — whatever we can do to get them off the island at this point — that’s what we’re going for,” she said.

Irma carved a path of destruction wherever she roared through the Caribbean. Video from St. John showed some of the damage inflicted on the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Sherry Sheppard’s parents are also stuck in St. Maarten. Sheppard sent her parents to the island for her mother’s birthday – a quick trip that she fears would turn into an indefinite stay.

“They do have food and water, but now it’s starting to run out — and they’re starting to decrease the portions they’re rationing out to them,” Sheppard said.

But during CBS2’s interview with Sheppard, there was a glimmer of hope. Sheppard’s parents managed to secure a flight off the island.

“Mommy getting on plane to Punta Cana and they’re looking for a flight from Punta Cana home now,” Sheppard read a text message. “Thank God. Thank God.”

Pares can only hope her parents will soon have the same luck.

“It’s scary. It’s really scary especially since there’s another storm behind that one, so we’re not sure how they’re going to make it out of Irma and what’s coming after,” she said.

Late Friday, it turned out that both of the women’s mothers were being flown out of St. Maarten on a Re3d Cross plane to the Dominican Republic. Late in the afternoon, the State Department told CBS2 they they’re working on ways to help Americans in St. Maarten — including reaching out to the Netherlands and France.

There is no U.S. consulate on the island, and they can’t access it yet.

Now, fears are turning to what is still ahead — Hurricane Jose is expected to make landfall Saturday afternoon.

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