A Sunwing flight from Cuba was scheduled to arrive at the Ottawa Airport Tuesday evening, carrying rescued passengers from Varadero and Havana. People there endured Hurricane Irma's full wrath as Cuba got hit by a category 5, devastating the small Caribbean Island and leaving hundreds of Canadians stranded. The flight this evening was one of six rescue flights that Sunwing was operating, bringing exhausted and relieved Canadians home.
And last night, about 250 Canadians were back on safe ground here, arriving at Toronto's Pearson airport.
There were cheers, hugs and yes, tears as these weary Canadians arrived home.
“It wasn't until I was on the plane and sitting down that I was like for sure I’m going to come back,” says Tarek Abi-Saab.
Three planes were sent to both St. Martin and the Turks and Caicos to bring about 250 Canadians home after 5 terrifying days trying to find a way out, watching anxiously as tourists from other countries were rescued.
“There was some frustration,” said Andrew Trozzi, “but for me personally after seeing how much people have lost there, how many of the locals have nothing now, I was just happy to be alive.”
Hurricane Irma ripped through the Caribbean, leaving a path of death and destruction in its wake.
“It's decimated, the people there,” said an emotional Kyla Jorgenson, “my heart goes out to them. They can't get off, they don't have fantastic family to come home to and there's a lot of work to be done on the island.”
The Canadian government has confirmed that all Canadians who requested help have now returned home from both St. Martin and Turks and Caicos.
And today, the focus for Sunwing is on Cuba as it continues the evacuation of the remaining customers in Varadero and Havana.
“The Cuban authorities have advised that Varadero airport will reopen briefly today to enable us to operate six rescue flights which are scheduled to return to Canada this afternoon,” Sunwing representative Jacqueline Grossman said in an email.
One of those flights lands in Ottawa.
For Ottawa native Richard Paterson, working with CARE Canada in Havana, the works now begins to try to rebuild what Hurricane Irma has destroyed.
“There are immediate needs that need to be addressed,” Richard Paterson said in a telephone interview from Havana, "in the area of water supply, access to food and roofing materials to help people restore their homes to some semblance of normalcy.”
Canadians can support CARE Canada's efforts by visiting www.care.ca