Hurricane Irma: extra flights to rescue thousands of Britons stranded in Cuba

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Thousands of British holidaymakers stranded in hurricane-hit Cuba are to be flown home in a mass evacuation in coming days.

As another hurricane was bearing down on the Caribbean, tour operators were rushing out plans to bring their customers back to Britain.

But Britons caught up in the Hurricane Irma devastation have complained that the Government and tour companies have failed to do enough to get them home from Cuba.

One woman said: “I can’t even begin to tell you how angry we all are. The Canadians went. The Argentinians went. And we’re are all sitting in our hotel waiting to move.”

Another woman said: “The Cuban people were the only ones that have actually looked after us. Our own Government just left us to sink.”

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Thomas Cook rejected criticism that they had been slow to respond.

A Thomas Cook spokesman said: “We are working on an evacuation plan for our 2,350 customers in Varadero, to bring all of them home in the coming days.”

Thomas Cook moved its holidaymakers from Cayo Coco to Varadero where their customers are in hotels built to withstand a hurricane.

​Varadero airport is due to reopen tomorrow and the travel company is talking to several airlines to help with the evacuation, perhaps using other airports, with 26 more members of its special assistance team waiting to fly out from the UK to provide support.

Experts highlighted that it would have been easier for Canada to evacuate its citizens given that the flight time is around three hours rather than a transatlantic flight.

Thomson & First Choice were putting on extra flights to evacuate their customers. A spokeswoman said: “As a result of the storm, communication channels have been impacted, but we are doing all that we can to keep in regular contact and to update customers.

“We have planned flights to operate for customers who have been impacted by the hurricane, once the airports have reopened. Reps in resort will advise customers once details have been confirmed.”

Geoffrey Scott Baker, whose daughter Amy Brown is on Saint Martin, controlled by the Dutch and French, said: “It seems that everybody can airlift their citizens out except for the UK.”

He said his daughter was at risk from looters targeting her resort, and added: “The British response has been pitiful.”

Mr Johnson rejected claims that the Government had been slow to react as “completely unjustified”.

“We were there as soon as the crisis broke,” he told BBC radio. “It doesn’t make any sense when a hurricane is impending to send in heavy aircraft or to send in ships that are not going to be capable themselves of withstanding the storm. 

Two more RAF flights were due to head to the Caribbean today, with another 200 personnel, including Royal Marines, engineers and 50 police officers, taking the British armed forces total there to around 1,000.

A field hospital is also being flown out to deal with the aftermath of Irma which ripped apart several isles including the British Virgin Islands.

A third plane will take aid to Gibraltar to be loaded on HMS Ocean which will take 10 days to get to the Caribbean.


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