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TORONTO — Forecasters are warning that Hurricane Irma, now a Category 4 hurricane but still powerful with sustained wind speeds topping 240 kph, could make a direct hit on the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people. Meanwhile the CTO and CHTA have issued the first detailed report of Irma’s damage to the islands as destinations including St. Maarten, already hard hit by Irma, keep an eye out for Hurricane Jose.
Irma rolled past the D.R. and Haiti and battered the Turks and Caicos Islands early this morning with waves as high as 6 metres. Communications went down as the storm slammed into the islands. Irma also spun Friday morning along the northern coast of Cuba.
Tour operators have invoked hurricane policies and are focused on getting passengers back safely. Transat CEO Jean-Marc Eustache said the immediate financial impact is not huge, but costs will increase if there are new hurricanes every few days. He noted that it’s not the first time that island hotels have faced hurricanes. “Five years ago was a very tough season for hurricanes and at the end of the day everything was there to send the customers,” he told analysts during a conference call Sept. 7 to discuss Transat’s Q3 results.
Here are the latest updates from the airlines and the CTO:
Due to revised mandatory evacuation orders in south Florida impacting airport staffing and operations at Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports, Air Canada has had to cancel flights out of Florida originally scheduled for Sept. 8 – 11. The cancelled flights are: AC1641 Miami-Toronto, AC1623 Fort-Lauderdale-Toronto and AC1605 Fort Lauderdale-Montreal.
Air Transat is deploying 4 flights to Florida to evacuate its clients: two flights to Fort Lauderdale and two to Orlando. The aircraft are expected to arrive in Fort Lauderdale on Sept. 8 and in Orlando on Sept. 9, both before noon. This operation will allow more than 750 passengers to be repatriated.
Faced with airport closures yesterday on Cuba’s islands, Sunwing made the decision to transport its clients staying in Cayo Coco and Cayo Santa Maria by bus to Varadero where the tour operator put them up overnight in all-inclusive hotels. Rescue flights out of Varadero are operating today.
The CTO and the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association have issued the most complete rundown to date of how the islands have been impacted by Hurricane Irma. Here are the latest details:
Antigua was spared Irma’s brunt, but it passed over the island of Barbuda. Antigua’s V.C. Bird International Airport reopened Sept. 6. Most residential, business and hotel properties in Antigua remain largely unscathed and already the main roads have been cleared of debris. However Barbuda suffered extensive damage.
A complete assessment is still underway, however, the latest reports indicate that critical infrastructure, such as the hospital, airport, fire station, police station, government buildings and utilities received moderate to severe damage. Repair and road clearance crews are working to restore conditions to pre-Irma status, and as the clean-up begins the full extent of the damage is being revealed. The British government has deployed three humanitarian aid experts from the UK to assist with needs assessments and coordination.
As Hurricane Irma make its way towards The Islands of The Bahamas, all airports on the islands closed either yesterday or today.
The British Virgin Islands took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma. The full extent of the damage is still being determined, but cars, trees, homes and boats have reportedly been destroyed. The tourist board is reporting that most communications remain down, including mobile phone service and Internet access. The Government has begun to coordinate humanitarian relief efforts and an initial clean-up operation. The British government is sending hundreds of troops and the Royal Navy flagship HMS Ocean to its overseas islands affected by Hurricane Irma.
The Cuban civil defense agency is preparing people on the northern coast of Cuba’s eastern provinces. Santiago province has opened 125 evacuation centres that can hold 38,000 people. Civil Defense representative Odesa Fuentes said the centres will remain open for the duration of the storm’s passage on Sept. 8.
It has been reported that Irma’s strong winds and torrential rains affected the D.R. on Sept. 7, damaging homes on the north coast of the country. There are no immediate reports of deaths and information is still being gathered.
The Haitian government called for all institutions, public and private, including banks and stores, to be shut down from noon on Sept. 7 until further notice.
More than one million people in Puerto Rico are without power. Ports on the island are still closed and it’s unclear when commercial flights will resume.
The eye of Hurricane Irma passed to the north of St. Kitts & Nevis and the Federation sustained minimal damage overall. Hotels are reporting no structural damage and all visitors are safe and accounted for. St. Kitts’ Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport reopened today at noon. The St. Kitts Tourism Authority is reporting that the islands’ tourism providers are in the process of reopening, and hotels are returning to business as usual.
The Vance W. Amory International Airport is open. Electricity has been restored across the island and hotels are reporting minimal structural damage, with beach and debris clean-up under way. The Four Seasons Resort Nevis reports that the resort is in fine shape and all areas are generally dry. Hermitage Inn, too, is reporting just general debris and no structural damage. The Great House and cottages at Nisbet Plantation Beach Club are in excellent condition however there was damage to the Sea Breeze Beach Bar, the decking and the beach.
It has been reported that St. Barth’s was heavily impacted by Hurricane Irma which destroyed government buildings and badly damaged private homes and resorts including The Eden Rock Hotel. There is flooding throughout the destination. The French government is sending people and supplies to the country to assist with recovery efforts.
It has been reported that much of the dual-island nation has suffered significant damage, with hotels, government offices, homes and smaller buildings badly damaged on both the Dutch and French sides of the island. Princess Juliana International Airport suffered extensive damage to the roof and building, but the authorities are working on clearing the runway. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said there is “widescale destruction of infrastructure, houses and businesses. There is no power, gasoline or running water.” Sonesta Hotels has reported major damage to all three of its resorts and Oyster Bay Beach Resort has also reported extensive damage. All guests are safe and are currently in on-property ‘safe areas’ at the resorts. All further reservations from now through the end of 2017 will be cancelled. The Westin Dawn Beach also suffered significant damage, so too the Beach Plaza, while Hotel Mercure suffered some damage. Both the French and Dutch governments are sending people to the country along with supplies and vital aid.
The U.S. Virgin Islands governor Kenneth Mapp reported Hurricane Irma significantly damaged St. Thomas and St. John. Fire and police stations collapsed and the main hospital in St. Thomas sustained heavy damage. A curfew remains in effect, including about 5,000 tourists. In St. Thomas, Windward Passage will be closed for six months due to Hurricane Irma, while Sugar Bay Resort & Spa sustained significant property damage, forcing its closure through Dec. 31, 2017. On St. Croix, the Buccaneer remains open for business, but reports that there may be some limitation of services over the next few days.
A hurricane warning is in effect for the Turks & Caicos Islands and residents have been advised to complete all preparations and evacuations in potential flood zones.
The CTO and CHTA say they are actively monitoring the hurricane and will continue to share updates from member countries in the CTO Storm Watch Centre on onecaribbean.org as well as on CHTA’s website caribbeanhotelandtourism.com.
With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press