Americans were desperate to leave the island of St. Martin in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.
The State Department coordinated with the Department of Defense to airlift 1,200 U.S. citizens from the island, a spokesperson told HuffPost on Saturday. But nearly 5,000 more remain behind, according to CBS News.
Many were trying to get home before another storm, Hurricane Jose, hit the island. “One hotel that we could have gone to, across the street, is wiped away, every single floor has been dismantled,” Tiffany Bunker told CBS New York.
“I cannot even describe or imagine going through this, and to be on the verge of it again is absolutely terrifying.”
However, the U.S. government advised Americans still on St. Martin to stay put until the danger was over.
“Until Hurricane Jose has safely passed, we strongly advise U.S. citizens to shelter in place at a secure location,” the State Department spokesperson said in an email. “U.S. citizens should not go to the airport unless they have specific and confirmed departure plans. Going to the airport without such plans could endanger the safety of U.S. citizens.”
Fortunately, the eye of Hurricane Jose managed to pass north of St. Martin on Saturday, though a tropical storm warning is reportedly still in effect. As Jose moved on, reports surfaced that more people were being airlifted off the island.
The U.S military began evacuating citizens to Puerto Rico on Friday, with flights expected to resume on Sunday, according to The Washington Post. U.S. Coast Guard bases on Puerto Rico have been used for the rescue efforts, but there have been delays, primarily because of the weather.
The rescues were not limited to U.S. citizens. Alex Woolfall, a British citizen, said that he has “Americans to thank for saving us as Jose approached.”
But Woolfall also noted that St. Martin and the other islands ravaged by the recent hurricanes have a long road to recovery ahead.
“U.S. military so kind & reception in Puerto [Rico] couldn’t have been warmer,” Woolfall tweeted to HuffPost. “But people of St Maarten desperately need help. It’s like a war zone.”