Published on Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Tourists told to leave Florida and Caribbean ahead of 'catastrophic' hurricane

Tourists are being urged to leave Florida Key West and some Caribbean islands as one of the most ferocious hurricanes ever to hit the region gathers strength.

Hurricane warnings have been issued for several islands, including Antigua, St Kitts and Nevis, where the airports have closed, and for the northern region of the Dominican Republic, the British and US Virgin Islands. A state of emergency has been declared in Florida and Puerto Rico.

Tourists are being asked to leave Florida Key West this morning.

A hurricane watch is also in effect for the southeast Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Visitors are being urged to leave the Turks and Caicos before an expected closure of the airports at 6pm this evening.

The Turks & Caicos Tourism said: "All hotels, resorts and villas throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands have activated their hurricane programs and are taking all necessary precautions to protect visitors and residents, as safety remains the highest priority.

"In accordance with the shutdown protocol, tourism officials have begun urging visitors to make preparations to leave the Islands. Visitors will be given the final opportunity to leave the island(s) within 24 hours of expected impact of Hurricane Irma, pending flight and airport operations.

"All visitors are asked to make preparations with their airlines and check officials at their hotels for further information."

Airports in the southern-most Bahamas are also expected to close. The Ministry of Tourism said: "All hotels and resorts throughout The Bahamas have activated their hurricane response programs and are taking all necessary precautions to protect visitors and residents, as safety remains the highest priority."

British Airways has cancelled today's flights between Gatwick and Antigua and St Kitts. "Hurricane Irma is predicted to hit a number of islands in the Caribbean in the coming days. We are in regular contact with all our airport partners in the region about the impact this will have on our customers planning to travel to and from the region," it said.

"We are doing all we can to get our customers to their final destinations, and anyone booked to fly with us to Antigua, St Kitts, Punta Cana, Providentiales, or Nassau before 10 September and who wishes to change their travel plans should contact us for a range of rebook options available to them. They can choose to travel to an alternative Caribbean destination or delay the flight to another date before 30 September.

"We are also providing rebook options for customers~booked to fly with us to/from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, or Orlando between 8 - 11 September inclusive. They can choose to fly to the same destination as originally booked, between 5 - 7 September or 12 - 30 September."

Virgin is also giving passengers the option to change their travel plans. It said: "In view of the forecast weather conditions, customers booked to travel to, from and through Antigua, Miami and Havana from 5 September to 11 September 2017 who would like to change their travel dates, or travel to an alternative Virgin Atlantic destination, may do so without penalty.

"Rebooking is subject to availability and travel must be completed on or before 12 October 2017."

Hurricane Irma, which has sustained wind speeds of more than 100 miles an hour, has been upgraded to a category five storm, making it one of the strongest recorded in the Caribbean. With gusts of up to 185mph, the US National Hurricane Center has described Irma as 'potentially catestrophic'.

It is expected to hit the Dominican Republic on Thursday and Cuba and Florida from Friday, bringing waves of up to 23 feet and up to 10 inches of rain.

Thomson has delayed today's flight from Gatwick to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for 48 hours 'as a precautionary measure'. "We encourage customers due to travel to Dominican Republic, Cuba and Florida in the coming days to check our website regularly for updates. We would like to thank customers for their patience as we prioritise those due to travel first," it said.

Kuoni, which has clients in Antigua, said: "We're continuing to monitor the progress of Hurricane Irma and our priority at this time is to ensure the safety of customers who are still in resort in the path of the storm.

"We have some customers who are in Antigua at the moment, so we've made sure every guest has been moved to safety and are in secure shelters.

"For future bookings, our team are helping customers due to travel over the next few days to move to alternative destinations or to cancel. We're working with the airlines and hotels to secure alternative arrangements.

"We're in contact with our team in all destinations and continue to closely monitor Turks & Caicos, Bahamas, Dominican republic, Cuba and Florida and will support and guide people in resort as the storm progresses."

Cruise ships are being diverted away from affected islands.


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