Tuesday 26 September 2017

Thousands of holidaymakers affected as Hurricane Irma sweeps through Caribbean

Men cover the window of a house in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Men cover the window of a house in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man uses a cable to secure the roof of his home in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man uses a cable to secure the roof of his home in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Men cover the windows of a auto parts store in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
In this geocolor image captured by GOES-16 and released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Irma, a potentially catastrophic category 5 hurricane, moves westward, (NOAA via AP)
A shopper waits to purchase water in Sedano's Supermarket in the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Florida, September 5, 2017. Residents are preparing for the approach of Hurricane Irma. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
Ligia Marquez loads water she purchased in Sedano's Supermarket in the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Florida, September 5, 2017. Residents are preparing for the approach of Hurricane Irma. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
A shopper in Sedano's Supermarket looks at nearly empty water shelves in the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Florida, September 5, 2017. Residents are preparing for the approach of Hurricane Irma. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
A shopper in Sedano's Supermarket looks at nearly empty water shelves in the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Florida, September 5, 2017. Residents are preparing for the approach of Hurricane Irma. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
A Home Depot store employee helps to load bags of sand for customers in the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Florida, September 5, 2017. Residents are preparing for the approach of Hurricane Irma. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
Shoppers in a Home Depot store wait for plywood in the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Florida, September 5, 2017. Residents are preparing for the approach of Hurricane Irma. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Tess de la Mare

Thousands of travellers have had their Caribbean holiday plans thrown into chaos as Hurricane Irma forces airlines to ground or divert flights.

The category five storm is sweeping through the region heading for the US coast and is one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic.

The US's National Hurricane Centre described Irma as "potentially catastrophic".

Irma comes hot on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which caused devastation and flooding in the states of Texas and Louisiana and left at least 66 people dead.

Puerto Rico, which handles a lot of transfer flights to the Caribbean, has declared a state of emergency, as has Florida.

Antigua airport will be closed on Wednesday and San Juan airport, the busiest in Puerto Rico, has cancelled about 40% of its flights in response to the hurricane.

British Airways sent an empty aircraft to the region to bring customers back early - the full flight of 326 passengers touched down in the UK on Tuesday evening.

It also cancelled a flight from the UK heading to Antigua and then on to Tobago.

BA said in a statement: "The safety of our customers and colleagues is always our priority.

"We are in contact with travellers in the region and laid on a special flight from Antigua today to get as many customers home as possible before the hurricane arrives on the island.

"The Antigua and St Kitts airport authorities have advised us that their airports will be closed tomorrow.

"We have offered all customers due to travel to the Caribbean and Florida in the coming days a range of re-booking options and are keeping our flights to the entire region under review. "

Virgin Atlantic also changed its return schedules, and a flight leaving Antigua on Tuesday left five hours early to avoid the storm.

The airline urged all customers to check the status of their flight before leaving for the airport, and offered all those affected by the storm the option to rebook their flights on alternative dates.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office told Britons to follow the advice of the local authorities and any evacuation orders.

Briton Carolyne Coleby, who runs a guest house on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, said locals were desperately trying to secure their houses with boards and remove any potential debris from outside spaces.

She told the Press Association: "The winds are starting to pick up and the clouds are coming in.

"We had a sunny morning but the storm's definitely on its way - it's going to be spectacularly unpleasant."

Ms Coleby, who also runs a turtle conservation project, has sheltered her herd of 20 goats in her house to save them from the worst of the storm.

"People are now just boarding up and clearing their gardens of any potential flying objects," she said.

"I had a sleepless night. I was very worried - I spent the night on the internet.

"It's going to be the strongest hurricane ever to cross the Atlantic. I've no idea what to expect."

Press Association

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