Air Transat has launched an airlift to get all its travellers out of the Dominican Republic ahead of the arrival of hurricane Irma.
The Montreal-based airline said late Tuesday it was sending 10 aircraft to the Caribbean nation — seven to Punta Cana, two to Puerto Plata and one to Samana.
Air Transat said all aircraft were expected to arrive in the Dominican Republic by Wednesday morning and that passengers should be back in Canada by afternoon or early evening.
The holiday travel airline did not say how many of its travellers would board the flights back to Canada. Air Transat also said its scheduled flights on Thursday to Punta Cana departing from Toronto and Montreal have been cancelled.
The airline said it would contact affected customers and offer them travel at a later date, travel to another destination subject to conditions, or cancellation with a full refund excluding travel insurance costs.
Irma, considered the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history, was bearing down on the northeast Caribbean, following a path predicted to then rake Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida.
The eye of the hurricane passed over Barbuda around 1:47 a.m. ET Wednesday, the U.S. National Weather Service said. Heavy rain and howling winds raked the neighbouring island of Antigua, sending debris flying as people huddled in homes or government shelters.
The Category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 295 kilometres per hour, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
American Airlines added extra flights out of the Caribbean islands of St. Maarten and St. Kitts and Nevis to get people out of Irma's path.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said his government was evacuating the six islands in the south because authorities would not be able to help anyone caught in the "potentially catastrophic" storm.
People there would be flown to Nassau starting Wednesday in what he called the largest storm evacuation in the country's history.
— With files from The Associated Press