Indian Embassy tells 1,500 Indian families stranded in storm in Caribbean to 'go to hell'

Sep 09, 2017, 08:16 IST | Gaurav Sarkar

Hurricane Irma has ravaged the Caribbean island of St Maarten
Hurricane Irma has ravaged the Caribbean island of St Maarten

Come hell or Hurricane Irma, the Indian Embassy in Venezuela won't help the nearly 1,500 Indians who are stranded in the Caribbean island of St Maarten. In the wake of the massive hurricane, the Indian families there are living without access to food, water or electricity, and are in constant anxiety of being robbed. But, when an Indian resident spoke to an embassy official about an evacuation, they were simply asked to 'go to hell'.

Also Read: Hurricane Irma ire leaves many dead in the Caribbean

The Dutch territory of St Maarten is one of the islands battered by Hurricane Irma. Indian residents there had their roofs torn off by the sheer force of the hurricane. The island has also been in a state of anarchy, with looting going on in broad daylight, say people who live there. Indians, who have no way to escape, are being targeted.

A damaged Casino Royale on St Maarten, after passage of Hurricane Irma
A damaged Casino Royale on St Maarten, after passage of Hurricane Irma

Get us out of here
Most of these stranded Indians have limited means of communication, and all their efforts to try and get help from the Indian government have thus far yielded nothing productive. WhatsApp groups have been formed to locate missing Indians and re-group in safe spots on the island. Yet, the fear of being robbed lies deep within. All they want is to be evacuated from the region.

Seema Shahani, an Indian who currently lives in St Kitts, another island that is merely 20 minutes away by flight, has her parents taking refuge at her brother's house at St Maarten. "They were visiting him on vacation. Both have health issues and will soon run out of their medicine. We have no way of getting these medicines to them," she told mid-day over an e-mail exchange.

The island has been in a state of anarchy, with looting going on in broad daylight, according to locals. Pic/AFP
The island has been in a state of anarchy, with looting going on in broad daylight, according to locals. Pic/AFP

Help from Swaraj
Shahani had also written an e-mail to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday, as well as tweeted to her multiple times, to tell her about how an evacuation was of utmost importance. In her letter, she mentioned that her friend Sunil Gehani had tried getting in touch over the phone with a certain Mr. Shrivastava from the Indian Embassy in Venezuela. "But he simply asked us to go to hell, and started asking my friend who would pay for the expenses of flying them out," reads Shahani's letter to Swaraj.

She adds, "There is no food or water, and the police are unable to control the looting. Each and every supermarket has been robbed. Our people are seeing it happening, but they are being told that no one can stop the looting now. We contacted [an official in] the Indian Embassy in Venezuela, but he asked us "to go to hell"."

'What's the govt doing?'
"Currently, we are in hell, but because of a government employee who we look up to in times like these," Shahani said in the letter. "Americans have sent boats to rescue their students. We too want to help but can't since the military has taken over. What is the Indian government doing at a time like this? Are these Indians not worthy of your time? We beg you to assist us in rescuing and evacuating our Indian people from St. Maarten."

Fly us out
Shahani has also provided an immediate solution to the minister in her letter, but it is one that requires government permissions for flight landings. "The closest and best option is to evacuate the Indians to St. Kitts. We, along with a few hundred other Indian families, live here and are ready to house as many as we can. The only thing we know that is preventing this is the lack of any landing permission for planes in St Maarten. We want a flight to go there and pick up the stranded Indians, and bring them to St Kitts."

Reassurance from the EAM
Satish Gupta, Sushma Swaraj's personal secretary, replied to Shahani's e-mail. He assured all help to rescue the Indians and asked for details of the conversation with the unruly embassy staff. He said, "We have noted contents of your e-mail with great concern. Let me assure you on the behalf of the Ministry and EAM that we shall do everything possible to help the Indians there. We have already initiated all actions to help Indians. ...we shall appreciate if you can inform details of the staff who conveyed, "go to hell"…You can always reach us for any assistance."

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