TORONTO—The Canadian government and aid agencies were setting the wheels in motion Sunday to come to the aid of Caribbean islands who suffered damage by hurricane Irma.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan tweeted Sunday evening that a team was being sent to determine how Canada can provide humanitarian assistance to the region.
Among the tools that the government can use is its Disaster Assistance Response Team, made up of members of the military and civilians from Global Affairs Canada. The DART can go to anywhere in the world on short notice to provide humanitarian assistance.
Meantime a Toronto-based aid organization said it sent four people to storm-battered St. Maarten to deliver supplies to those affected by Irma.
Rahul Singh, executive director of Global Medic, says the agency’s volunteers headed to the Caribbean country on a Sunwing rescue flight.
“Everyone’s trying to get out of the one place that we’re getting into,” he said.
St. Maarten, located on the Dutch side of an island divided between French and Dutch control, was devastated by the hurricane. An estimated 70 per cent of the homes were damaged or destroyed by Irma and four people have died, according to the Dutch government.
There was concern that hurricane Jose could hit the island Saturday night, but the Netherlands said the island was spared further damage because the storm passed farther from shore than expected.
Sunwing said its rescue flight left from Toronto on Sunday morning, and will drop off one tonne of humanitarian aid supplies, along with the Global Medic volunteers.
The Canadian airline said the flight will be picking up Canadians, Americans and Europeans stuck on the island.
Singh said his team of volunteers, which includes a paramedic, a firefighter and a pilot, will distribute hygiene kits and water purification kits, along with water purification units that will be used in hospitals.
“Our getting in could make the world of difference to the patients in that hospital with no clean water, to those 1,700 folks that are going to get aid, and to the overall emergency system,” he said.
On top of that, Singh said, they brought enough water purification tablets to purify a million litres of water.
“People have some pretty significant needs down there, and we’re racing against time to meet them,” Singh said.
He said the St. Maarten government has also asked that his team use drones to gather “aerial imaging and comprehensive mapping” of the damage.
More than 9,000 Canadians have registered with the Registration of Canadians Abroad Service in the region, Global Affairs said Sunday, but added that the number only provides an estimate since registration is voluntary. Out of those registered in the area, 296 Canadian citizens have requested assistance.
“Our thoughts are with all those affected, both Canadians abroad and their families at home,” spokeswoman Natasha Nystrom said in a statement. “During this difficult time, the Government of Canada is making every possible effort to assist Canadian citizens affected by hurricane Irma and those who may be affected by hurricane Jose.”
She said Canada’s diplomatic missions are working with local authorities, airlines and tour operators to further help affected Canadians.
Canada is also working with international partners such as the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, France and the Netherlands to information and co-ordinate our efforts, she added.