Canada 95 Canadians barred from boarding Air Canada evacuation flight in Turks and Caicos

09:26  11 september  2017
09:26  11 september  2017 Source:   cbc.ca

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Global Affairs says it is working at "high levels" to evacuate 95 Canadians from the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos after they were barred by local officials from boarding an Air Canada flight sent to fly them home Sunday afternoon.

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95 Canadians barred from boarding Air Canada evacuation flight in Turks and Caicos: Hurricane Irma hit Turks and Caicos as a Category 5 hurricane, with winds of up to 280 km/h. <br /> © Anika E. Kentish/Associated Press Hurricane Irma hit Turks and Caicos as a Category 5 hurricane, with winds of up to 280 km/h. 

Global Affairs says it is working at "high levels" to evacuate 95 Canadians from the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos after they were barred by local officials from boarding an Air Canada flight sent to fly them home Sunday afternoon. 

The flight was set to depart the islands' primary international airport at 4:30 p.m. ET.  In a statement to CBC News/Radio-Canada, the airline said authorities refused to allow the travellers to board, "despite previous confirmations the charter flight would be authorized."

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Air Canada has also operated extra flights to immediately affected areas, such as Antigua and Providenciales, to bring all customers home early. Nassau (NAS), Bahamas Providenciales (PLS), Turks and Caicos Exuma Int.

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According to Air Canada, many of the passengers reside in Quebec. 

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Austin Jean, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said the department is aware of the situation. 

"We are actively working with local partners to resolve the situation. The government is currently raising this issue at high levels," he said. 

Several travellers scheduled to take the flight — as well as some of their concerned family members —contacted CBC News/Radio-Canada, saying they were driven back to a Club Med resort where they had been vacationing after being denied entry onto the airplane.

The flight left Toronto earlier Sunday carrying 95 electricians as part of a humanitarian aid mission. The group is set to help rebuild the islands' devastated electrical grid after Hurricane Irma lashed the vacation hot spot as a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of up to 280 km/h.

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It wasn't clear as of early Monday if the electricians were allowed entry, but Air Canada said that the plane remains in place and is ready to transport travellers back to Canada as soon as the situation is resolved.

Richard Couët's daughter Geneviève is one of those stranded. According to Richard, Geneviève was given several reasons why the flight didn't depart, including because of security issues. 

"That's a little ridiculous," Richard said. "Let them leave. They're tourists, they're going to have to leave anyway and the plane is sitting there empty."

He explained that it's been a stressful week as Geneviève and other guests at the vacation resort were stuck there as Irma blew threw the Caribbean.

He said that his daughter barricaded herself inside her room, blocking its windows with mattresses and reinforcing the makeshift measure with pieces of wood she scavenged from the resort grounds. 

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The Turks and Caicos Islands are a short flight or sea cruise from many other destinations and Caribbean hotspots, including Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda and Jamaica.

"They're frustrated, they're disappointed, they're shocked," Couët said of Geneviève and her companions on the trip.

Another Montrealer, Johanne Perron, is also stuckS he believes the holdup is a political issue, but said over text message that "the good news is that the plane is still grounded here and apparently not leaving without us."

Perron said the group had to wait outside the airport "three hours in the scorching heat only to be brought back to Club Med," where they spent the night Sunday. 

Neither the airline or Global Affairs offered an explanation as to why local authorities would not allow them to board the aircraft. 

"The plane is still in place. Air Canada continues its efforts with island authorities to bring the Canadians back to the country," said Isabelle Arthur, spokesperson for Air Canada. 

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