Parts of Caribbean and Mexico City in shambles; Air Canada cancelling St. Maarten flights

What a mess.

As folks in Puerto Rico try to cope with flooding and the lack of electricity from the effects of Hurricane Maria, the post-Maria work continues for St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and in poor Dominica, which bore the full force of the hurricane’s wrath earlier this week.

The Caribbean Journal today was reporting that “Hurricane Maria clobbered Puerto Rico on Wednesday, sending it into a total island-wide blackout, with reports of significant property damage.”

Top that off with the severe damage done by Hurricane Irma to St. Martin/St. Maarten, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, Anguilla, Cuba and the USVI and you’ve got one seriously disturbing situation.

A Dominica home destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

The main concern, of course, is folks who live in these beautiful but highly exposed islands. I’ve read that parts of Puerto Rico might not have power for months. Months! I don’t know whether that’s government negligence or a lack of funding from the mainland U.S., but there’s something wrong when a territory of the richest nation on earth can’t get its electrical system up and running for months after a hurricane, albeit one of massive proportions.

President Donald Trump has declared disaster areas for both Puerto Rico and the U.S.V.I, which will mean more funding. But it’s too late for a lot of people.

You have to feel for the folks on these islands, almost all of which rely on tourism as the number one supplier of jobs. Sunwing has cancelled ALL trips to St. Martin/Maarten until the end of April, deeming the island unsafe for visitors. I got a note from Air Canada today (Sept. 21) to say that their service to the island is seasonal “and not scheduled to resume until December, however at this point flights are cancelled. Any bookings to St. Maarten will have the option to make changes or get a full refund.
“For the DR we operated five rescue flights Tuesday, and today’s and tomorrow’s flights are cancelled, and we’ll wait to assess the situation.

“Turks and Caicos is also suspended to further notice,” spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick told me in an email.
“(For) Cuba, we are operating flights to some destinations but Cayo Coco and Santa Clara are cancelled to 31-Oct inclusive and Varadaro cancelled to 30-Sep inclusive,” he said. “Other Caribbean (services are) operating normally.”

For Mexico City, Fitzpatrick said they fly four times a day, two from Toronto and one each from Vancouver and Montreal. They had four cancellations yesterday, all due to the impact of the earthquake in Mexico City.

“Due to infrastructure damage including our crew hotel in MEX (Mexico City) being damaged, we cancelled our overnight YYZ-MEX (outbound from Toronto) and YVR-MEX (outbound from Vancouver) flights but will be putting on a larger aircraft to accommodate customers as needed. We hope to resume full service tomorrow.”

Like I said, a huge mess.

Air Canada and WestJet and other airlines have had to cancel flights to the east end of the Dominican Republic, including Punta Cana, as Hurricane Maria was about 90 miles off-shore from the DR as of this morning. Forecasts show it will miss the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, but we all know forecasts can be wrong.

And then there’s Mexico City, hit by a tremendous earthquake the other day that measured 7.1 on the Richter Scale. More than 250 deaths have already been recorded, and there could be more.

Phillipsburg, St. Maarten was levelled by Hurricane Irma.

Airlines are scrambling to deal with the situation, re-routing flights and getting customers out of affected areas. Not everyone was happy with the pace of the evacuation on St. Martin, but it sounds like things have settled down.

Hotels are trying to get things cleaned up. In some cases, they’re suggesting the damage is slight and that guests can come in a few days. But not everyone is buying it, as this CTV News report suggests.

You can’t buy travel insurance once a hurricane has been spotted by weather experts and advisories issued, but you should DEFINITELY buy some if you plan to head south later this year or early in 2018, whether it’s to the Caribbean or to Florida.

Once things are back to normal (if they ever are) on St. Martin and Dominica, I urge you to spend your vacation dollars and go to the areas that suffered the heaviest damage from Irma and Maria. You’ll feel good about it and you’ll be helping the locals who rely on tourism spending to feed their families and provide shoes and shelter for their kids.

In the meantime, for the hurricane season (traditionally mid-August to mid-November but who knows these days) you might want to consider a trip to some place where they traditionally don’t get these kinds of storms.

The ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) are historically outside of hurricane alley, so those are options. Ditto for Trinidad and Tobago. Hawaii has been known to get hurricanes but its still fairly rare. I don’t think they get Atlantic hurricanes in Mexico or Central America, but they do get tropical storms off the Pacific.

It’s not quite as warm as the Caribbean, but I fell in love with the Azores on a visit two years ago. The hiking and food are lovely and the coastline feels like Hawaii meets the Mediterranean. I’m told the Canary Islands also are quite beautiful (and further south).

You also could try Morocco or perhaps the Algarve in Portugal or southern Spain. If you can manage the air fare and the time to get there, Asia is a great option. They do get storms but the Canadian dollar goes a long way in places like Vietnam and Thailand. You also could invest in a great trip to Australia or New Zealand if you want a beach holiday. Or even Tahiti.

Of course, if you don’t mind being away from the water there are a ton of places to try for guaranteed winter heat, including the Scottsdale/Phoenix areas in Arizona and Palm Springs or southern California.

There a lot of options out there for Canadians. Unfortunately, there aren’t so many for our friends in the Caribbean. May things return to normal as soon as possible, and may they all be blessed by the weather gods for the foreseeable future.

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