U.S. military aircraft have evacuated more than 500 American citizens trapped on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, which was devastated by Hurricane Irma and is now facing more possible damage from Hurricane Jose. It is estimated that more than 5,000 American citizens remain on the island that is jointly administered by France and the Netherlands.
“The safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas is our top priority,” said Heather Nauert, the State Department spokesperson. “Over the last 24 hours, Department of State has worked in close coordination with the Department of Defense to assist over 500 American citizens with air evacuations from [St. Maarten], beginning with those needing urgent medical care.”
“These operations will expand as weather conditions improve after Hurricane Jose passes the island,” said Nauert.
The evacuation flights began Friday evening as National Guard C-130 aircraft flew to the island from Puerto Rico to evacuate those needing urgent medical care.
The first two flights were carried out by two HC-130 aircraft from the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard that transported 28 people on the first flight and 33 on the second flight.
More than 500 American citizens have been evacuated to Puerto Rico.
The United States does not have a consulate on the island which has made it difficult to gather information about Americans still on the island.
“We intend to resume operations to St. Martin as soon as it is safe to do so,” said Nauert. “Until Hurricane Jose has safely passed, we strongly advise U.S. citizen to shelter in place at a secure location.”
The official cautioned that U.S. citizens on the island should not go to the airport on St. Maarten “unless they have specific and confirmed departure plans.” The official added, “Going to the airport without such plans could endanger the safety of U.S. citizens.”
The Department of State is operating a 24 hour task force to coordinate the U.S. government response to Irma and Jose. “We are coordinating with all parts of the U.S. government to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens,” said Nauert. “We are also tracking requests for assistance for citizens of other countries.”
Before Irma made landfall the State Department helped the departure of U.S. citizens through commercial and charter transportation.