US tells Americans stranded on St. Martin to 'shelter in place' as Jose approaches

The U.S. State Department warned thousands of Americans stranded on the Caribbean island of St. Martin to "shelter in place at a secure location" until Hurricane Jose has passed.

The department said approximately 500 U.S. citizens had been evacuated from St. Martin by air, "beginning with those needing urgent medical care." An estimated 6,000 U.S. citizens had been stuck on St. Martin after Hurricane Irma battered the Caribbean earlier this week.

The Associated Press reported that U.S. officials deployed C-130s to take Americans to Puerto Rico. 

Carol Basch, a 53-year-old document analyst from Savannah, Ga., was among those evacuated to Puerto Rico on Saturday. Stuck in St. Martin when Irma hit, she huddled for four hours in a hotel bathroom with no tub to protect her. Surrounding herself with pillows, she prayed nonstop as she heard furniture being tossed around her room.

"Windows busted through," she said, adding that one fell on her before she sought shelter inside the bathroom. "The storm kept going and going and going."

"I kept saying, 'Lord, please stop this, and soon, soon,'" she said. "I'm glad I'm alive. I didn't think I was going to make it."

She said locals had welcomed her into their house and gave her food and a sofa to sleep on.

A tropical storm warning remained in effect Saturday evening for St. Martin, which is divided between Dutch and French control.

Looting, gunshots and a lack of clean drinking water were reported on the French side of the island Saturday.

More than 1,100 police, military officials and others were deployed to St. Martin and the nearby French Caribbean territory of St. Barts, where they used helicopters to identify the cars of people looting stores and homes. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Saturday night that France would be sending more Foreign Legion troops, paratroopers and other reinforcements to St. Martin starting Sunday.

Philippe said the several hundred gendarmes, soldiers and other security forces there were working in "difficult conditions" and needed help.

On the other side of the island, the Dutch government estimated Saturday that 70 percent of houses were badly damaged or destroyed, leaving much of the 40,000 population in public shelters as they braced for the arrival of Jose.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the situation remained "grim" on the island where widespread looting had broken out and a state of emergency was in force.

Rutte said some 230 Dutch troops and police were patrolling St. Maarten to maintain order and deliver aid and a further 200 would arrive in coming days. The government evacuated 65 dialysis patients from St. Maarten's hospital, which also was hard hit by Irma.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.