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The outside of Teresa Wilson's restaurant in St. Maarten, showing the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma. The photograph was taken by her husband, Mike. Ms. Wilson is now in Toronto, but her husband remains in St. Maarten.

The violence of Hurricane Irma and the impending arrival of another monster storm, Jose, have severely hampered efforts to reach Canadians stranded on the resort island of Saint Martin and elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Speaking during an afternoon technical briefing, senior government officials said the Global Affairs department has logged about 1,100 phone calls and e-mails regarding Canadian citizens affected by this week's devastating winds and rains. As of Saturday afternoon, 222 specific requests for assistance had been made.

"This is an unprecedented event," said one official. "It's making it difficult to assist Canadians in the affected areas."

The briefing came amid reports of lootings, gun violence and chaos in Saint Martin. According to the Dutch government – which claims half the island, St. Maarten, as a protectorate – 70 per cent of dwellings were either destroyed or badly damaged.

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Airport runways are closed to civilian traffic and fallen telecommunications lines and towers are making it difficult to contact people.

"My husband says it's basically like a war zone, totally ruined. ... The looters will shoot you for a bottle of water," said Teresa Wilson, who, along with her husband, Mike, moved to St. Maarten five years ago to open a restaurant. Ms. Wilson said her husband has left the couple's apartment over fears for his safety.

Ms. Wilson happened to be back in Toronto visiting family when Irma struck. Her last communication with her 54-year-old husband was on Saturday morning.

"You could hear the wind, it sounded even louder than [Irma], and then it just stopped," she said. "There's no more cell service there."

Communications are spotty, the atmosphere is tense, and frustrations are evidently mounting among some Canadians who continue to be stranded in the region.

Posting on her Facebook page during a rare moment where communications were possible on Saint Martin, Cecilia de Roca-Chan, a partner in a Vancouver-area accounting firm who is apparently marooned at American University of the Caribbean, sent out an online cri du coeur.

"Please urge the Canadian government and airlines to have coordinated efforts to pull us out of here. We are hearing chaos on the streets and outside the school campus. Hearsay is looters are shooting drivers and people and stealing cars and buses ... if and when the U.S. military comes, the U.S. citizens will be the priority and not as Canadians. Canada has to do something," she wrote. "We see planes landing and we hear those are private lanes (sic) charging $9,000 per seat. That means the airport is operational and can land planes. We urge you to help us."

Federal officials say the anger is completely understandable, but that the circumstances of this week's devastation – massive, back-to-back hurricanes – are making it impossible to send a rescue party.

The proximity of the storms has made it difficult-to-impossible to send planes, particularly given the damage to civilian flight infrastructures on several islands, most prominently Saint Martin, which has had sharply curtailed airplane traffic.

As Irma wheeled toward Florida and Jose arrives to deliver a second wallop to communities, Canadian officials said they were preparing as best they can.

The ministry's 24-hour emergency response centre is currently staffed by 60 volunteers from within the ministry, with half that number standing by to provide reinforcements.

The number of requests for assistance will likely increase as it becomes easier for Canadians in the Caribbean to contact their local consulate or the main crisis centre (it can be reached via email at or by phone at 613-996-8885, and also accepts collect calls).

Ottawa has already freed up more than $100,000 in emergency humanitarian aid and a disaster assessment team stands at the ready, as does the military disaster relief team (known by its acronym, DART), although no conclusive determination has been made yet as to whether it will be deployed.

No deaths have thus far been signalled, and all diplomatic and government personnel is safe and accounted for.

There were 9,000 Canadians registered in the Caribbean as of Saturday, although the government says that's a very rough approximation given the voluntary nature of the registry; the number is likely higher, and in the U.S. it is so large as to not warrant estimation.

Several tourists and their families have expressed frustration with the slow pace of Canadian interventions in the region, and another official said, "We understand that frustration, they want to get out and they can't."

Though help won't arrive immediately, the government says plans are well under way for a massive airlift once the skies clear.

Ottawa has been co-ordinating with airlines, charter operators and tour companies – as well as with international partners from France, Holland, the U.S. and Britain – to make sure Canadians will have the chance to get home.

Though the federal government has chartered planes in the past to airlift stuck citizens – it happened most recently in 2004 – it's not likely to do so in this case because of the co-ordinated response that will shortly be unleashed.

"People should be getting out in fairly short order," said an official.

That assertion came as something of a relief to Teresa Wilson.

"I pray every day and every hour that he's going to be able to come home safe, him and all the other Canadians, and everybody, really," she said. "This is just wild. The Caribbean just got wiped out."