Montrealers escaping Hurricane Irma arrive at airport, shaken and relieved

Dozens waited anxiously for their loved ones as planes with tourists escaping Hurricane Irma touched down in Montreal, Saturday.

Couple reunited after being forced to take separate planes home, on separate days

The Anoia family held up signs, saying "#Escaped Irma," and "Welcome home" as they reunited with their kin, who were evacuated from Cuba just in time for Hurricane Irma's arrival. (CBC)

At 7 a.m. Friday, the weather was still so mild that Stéphane Gagnon's girlfriend went for a dip in the pool of their Cayos Santa Maria hotel in Cuba.

Then the sky started to turn.

"Now it's no joke," Gagnon said Saturday afternoon at the Montreal airport, pacing a little as he kept his eyes firmly fixed on the arrivals board.

It had been a tense 24 hours for the couple, who were forced to take separate flights home as they tried to escape the approaching Hurricane Irma because they'd flown in with different companies. 

Having arrived Friday himself, Gagnon was now anxious to see his partner Lucie Lessard back home safely.

Gagnon appeared pained as he recalled having to leave his girlfriend at the airport. To him, it meant having to "put our confidence in the company. It's your family — I don't like this feeling."

He was one of dozens waiting at Pierre Elliot Trudeau on Saturday as planes of tourists fleeing the Category 4 storm arrived into Montreal from Cuba.

Lessard said she'd be stuck at the hotel, bracing for the hurricane alone had Gagnon not urged Sunwing staff to let her onto one of the 14 buses evacuating tourists to the Varadero airport, Friday.

Stéphane Gagnon and Lucie Lessard embrace Sunday at the Montreal airport after the couple were forced to take separate flights back from Cuba to escape the approaching Hurricane Irma. (CBC)

Chaotic time

Lessard had flown with Air Cubana, but says she didn't hear from the airline when it came time to leave.

"Even the staff from the hotel was being evacuated," she said after disembarking.

The couple said Sunwing stopped short of letting them take the same plane, leaving the couple feeling ripped apart during the chaotic time.

Just hours before, on the drive to Varadero, the couple's evacuation bus collided with two other buses in the convoy. 

Friends and family members of other passengers were also waiting in anticipation as the flight experienced delays but finally arrived after 1 p.m.

Kathleen Ashworth said she was afraid her daughter, who was vacationing in Cuba as Hurricane Irma approached, would have to wait out the storm there. But she was back in Montreal Saturday. (CBC)

Kathleen Ashworth told CBC she was relieved that her daughter had finally gotten a flight out of Cuba after days of uncertainty.

"There was a general explanation on [Sunwing's] website, but you can't reach them in case of emergency because the lines are busy," Ashworth said. 

"Now that she's on the flight, I'm happy, very happy," she said before the flight touched down.

Plane hit 'very bad' turbulence

Delays weren't the only bumps along the way. Passenger Nella Malacria said the plane hit heavy turbulence as well.

"It was very bad, I was nauseous the whole way," she said. Despite it all, Malacria said she was satisfied with how Sunwing handled the situation. 

"You know what, they did the best they could," she said. "There were good days and bad days, but they got us out of there safely."

Nella Malacria teared up as she was greeted by her son at the Montreal airport Saturday, when she returned from Cuba just before Hurricane Irma passed over the country. (CBC)

Malacria was in Cayo Santa Maria as well and told CBC when she landed that she'd seen the water reach seven feet high.

As she landed at Trudeau airport, she found her family waiting with signs bearing the hashtag "Escaped Irma."

Malacria hugged her son. "I don't think I want to go anywhere anymore," she said through tears and a laugh.

Following the ordeal, the tired travellers said they were relieved to finally be home.

"My god, I love our ice storms, I love our snow and, you know what, my next trip is not going to be down south," Lessard said. "It's going to be [up] north!"

with files from Simon Nakonechny