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Hurricane Irma: American woman trapped in St. Martin says "We just need to go home"

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Americans stranded in St. Maarten after island was devastated by Irma 07:57

A New York City woman who was on Caribbean island of St. Martin during Hurricane Irma told CBSN says she and her friends are now trapped without a way to get off the island. 

"We are just asking that not just for ourselves -- please, please call your local electives, call your assemblymen, call your senators, call your embassies and tell them you have citizens who are stranded here, Anguilla, St. Bart's and we just need to go home," Tiffany Bender told CBSN.

Bender and three of her friends were staying at an Airbnb, but the the hosts just "told us to cross our fingers when we asked her about the best practices for the storm." She said they contacted the embassy, who gave them a list of hotels that still had power. She said that at the Airbnb they had left, the roof caved in from the storm.

"One of the hotels that we could have went to were actually across the street is completely wiped away," Bender said. "Every single floor was completely dismantled, so it's really luck of the draw that we picked the hotel that we did."

She described the conditions at the hotel when Irma hit. She said the storm hit at about 2 a.m., and at 4 a.m., they realized the 7th floor of the hotel was flooded. 

"From the ceiling, it was coming from the elevator, and at that point we had packed emergency bags with our passports and necessities and we picked up our emergency bags and ran into the staircase where other guests were," Bender said. "Again, we were on the 7th floor and the water rose to about the 2nd floor, and at that point we had realized that the roof had come off. Luckily at that time we were going through the eye of the storm so we kind of had this lull moment where maintenance worked as quickly as they could to fix a new roof, where 45 minutes later we had to pass through that second part of the storm and it was just absolutely terrifying."

Residents flee tiny Barbuda, wiped out by Irma, ahead of Jose 01:53

In the days since the storm hit, Bender said the hotel has done a "fantastic job of keeping us safe" but the hotel's manager had warned them of looting and assaults in rooms with women. "We didn't have a window in our room, and the locks were broke, so we have been putting chairs under the door and so at that point we made the decision to kind of pack up and head for shelter at the American University."

She said there is a 24-hour curfew in place, and they were told if they go out "you will be shot or detained ... verbatim."

Meanwhile, the university told them they could stay one night. 

As for their future plans, Bender said emotionally "we honestly don't know. We don't know. We have our family back home and they're doing what they can but we really don't know."

Irma clobbers Caribbean, causing major devastation 01:23

The U.S. Consulate General in Curacao told the Associated Press earlier Friday that it believes about 6,000 Americans are stranded on St. Martin, an island split between French and Dutch control. The consulate said it was working with the U.S. and other governments to try to figure out how to get the Americans off the island either by air or boat.

Irma hit St. Martin on Wednesday as a Category 5 storm. Photos and video of St. Martin circulating on social media showed major damage to the Philipsburg airport and heavy flooding in the coastal village of Marigot, according to the AP.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told the AP the storm "caused wide-scale destruction of infrastructure, houses and businesses."

"There is no power, no gasoline, no running water. Houses are under water, cars are floating through the streets, inhabitants are sitting in the dark in ruined houses and are cut off from the outside world," he said.

Just days after Irma slammed the island, St. Martin is under a hurricane watch again for the powerful Category 4 Hurricane Jose

"I cannot describe or even imagine going through something like this again and to be on the verge of it again is absolutely terrifying," Bender said. 

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