By Alastair Jamieson and Daniella Silva
The State Department said Sunday that more than 1,200 U.S. citizens have been evacuated from the hurricane-damaged island vacation hot spot of St. Maarten amid reports of looting and violence — but the Dutch government said reports of a prison break were “unfounded.”
The evacuations by military flights to Puerto Rico resumed Sunday afternoon after relief flights had been suspended because of poor weather from Hurricane Jose, the storm that followed Hurricane Irma, the State Department said.
“Evacuation efforts will prioritize U.S. citizens needing urgent medical care, followed by a broad call with additional information other U.S. citizens remaining on the island,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “We will accommodate third country nationals on a space available basis.”
“We continue to advise U.S. citizens to shelter in place at a secure location until they have specific and confirmed departure plans.”
Juan Brown, 49, of Fernandina Beach, Florida, near Jacksonville, said he was flown by U.S. military plane from St. Maarten to Puerto Rico on Saturday afternoon — after having ridden out the storm in a stairwell and a service elevator shaft at a hotel.
Brown was on the island on a business trip when the hurricane hit Tuesday night.
“We all ran to stairwells. There was about, I would say, about 100 guests and about 65 staff that they had there,” he said.
“It started taking on water towards the bottom, and people started panicking,” he said, later adding. “It was a very dangerous situation. … There were a lot of elderly people, a lot of kids crying, a lot of people gathering and holding hands.”
Brown and his business partner, Ricardo Brignole, then left with a group to a service elevator shaft.
“That was harrowing, because to the left of us and the right of us were all rooms, and those doors and windows were getting blown out left and right, so it was taking on water the wind was just whipping in,” Brown said.