Some tourists from Toronto finding themselves in the direct path of Hurricane Irma say they're getting little information from their airlines and travel representatives — despite many airlines having announced they're sending extra flights to help tourists get out before the category five storm hits.
One GTA couple was supposed to say their "I dos" in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic this week, but Wednesday night, the bride, groom and their 30 guests boarded an Air Canada flight back to Toronto. They're expected to land around midnight.
The Dominican Republic, currently under a hurricane warning, is just one of many island nations expected to be hit by Hurricane Irma, now considered the most powerful storm in Atlantic Ocean history.
Air Canada announced Wednesday evening it will send 24 additional flights to bring customers home early from three airports each in the Dominican Republic and Florida, four locations in Cuba, as well as larger aircraft for flights from Havana and Nassau.
Matthew Douglas, the Toronto pastor who was set to officiate the wedding, told CBC Toronto there had been lots of tears and panic within the group Wednesday. Before they secured their flight home, the group was told their resort would be handing out care packages this evening, which include food and water.
"Canadians, we are courageous, we are strong, but we'd like the strength of our fellow Canadians to get us out of here," he said.
Airlines announce additional flights
Andrew McGrath identifies himself as a communications and public affairs employee living in Toronto.
"We don't know if there's an evac plan. Air Canada Vacation reps didn't give clear answers," he tweeted Wednesday, adding that Air Canada needs to better communicate with customers in the Dominican Republic.
2/2 We don't know if there's an evac plan. @AirCanadaVac reps didn't give clear answers. On a bus to city that other airlines are evacuating— @a_mcgrath1
Adrianna Prosser, also on vacation in Punta Cana, says she hasn't been able to get in touch with Sunwing, the airline and travel agency with which she's travelling.
"Their phone lines are dead, the representatives are M.I.A. [missing in action]," she said via Skype from the main building of her hotel, where tourists have been moved to.
'Their phone lines are dead, the representatives are M.I.A.' - Adrianna Prosser
"There are people who are leaving and we're trying … talking to some other guests here, some of us are just frustrated. There are no flights, there are a lot of cancellations."
In a statement, Sunwing said all service from Punta Cana and Puerto Plata is "scheduled to depart as normal today, in addition to special flights arranged to bring passengers currently in destination home early."
All Sunwing service heading south has been cancelled until at least Friday.
WestJet and Air Transat have announced additional flights to evacuate customers from the island nations under warnings and watches. Air Transat sent 10 flights to the Dominican Republic early Wednesday morning, while WestJet sent four planes to the Dominican and one to Turks and Caicos. The flights are expected back Wednesday evening.
Tourists making the best of situation
Despite the extreme weather and sudden change of vacation plans, Prosser says "everybody's actually quite calm."
"It's a strange mix of terror and humour at the same time" is how she described the scene. "You have to have your sense of humour at this point … there's no point in freaking out."
Prosser says tourists, including herself, are currently trying to make the best of their time.
"I made friends on the beach because I was one of those silly Canadian tourists who wanted to take a picture of the waves."
Travel advisories for Canadians
Global Affairs Canada has updated their travel advisories, and is advising against all travel to the following regions:
- North coast of Haiti.
- Northern coast of Dominican Republic.
- Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra.
- Florida Keys.
They recommend against all non-essential travel to:
- Eastern and Central Cuba.
- Southeastern Bahamas.