Irma evacuees return to South Florida as MIA, FLL resume operations

FORT LAUDERDALE-HOLLYWOOD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, FLA. (WSVN) - Days of desperation are finally coming to an end for travelers to South Florida after Hurricane Irma caused thousands of flight cancellations at local airports.

This comes as welcome news for those passengers who found themselves unexpectedly stuck at the airport and for evacuees trying to make their way home.

As of Tuesday afternoon, operations were at about 50 percent at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

7News cameras captured Irma evacuees rolling their luggage into a terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Tuesday afternoon.

“We had to leave because of the storm. We were at Virginia Beach,” said one passenger.

Irma forced airports across South Florida to shut down for several days, due to wind and water damage to gates and terminals. Now, they are trying to get back to normal.

At MIA, the first arrival happened at 7 a.m., and the first departure was at 10 a.m.

7News spoke to several passengers at a baggage claim area. “We booked [the flight] right away, at, like, 2 p.m. Los Angeles time, but a different route. We just want to get home,” said one man.

At MIA alone, there were at least 600 flights cancelled due to Irma, leaving dozens of passengers stranded. 7News cameras showed tourists sleeping at one of the terminals.

“No luggage, no food, my daughter’s medication,” said a frustrated passenger.

“We’re stuck,” said another flyer. “We have five days without taking a bath.”

As two tourists from Germany charged their cellphones, they prayed to be able to fly out of Miami.

The tourists said they were kicked out of their hotel and forced into an evacuation center for days. “They were not prepared. They had no baths, no electricity for the worst case, no generators,” said one of them.

Sleeping at the evacuation center proved to be a challenge for the German women. “We had to sleep on the floor with cockroaches everywhere. The building started to flood,” said one of them.

“When the hurricane came, it was like a horror movie,” said the other tourist. “It was insane. It was like our worst nightmare.”
Staff members at MIA did everything they could to keep those people calm and comfortable throughout the storm.

“You know they say in the darkest times, the light shines brightest and this was one of those dark times the airport staff came through,” said an airport official.

The airport official added, “They don’t want to go to a shelter, they didn’t have a hotel room, so we accommodated them here with blankets, with mattresses, food, clothing and water for the time they had to ride out the storm.”

As residents continue to return, they said they’re ready to come back home and get to work. “We got out safely. It was a lot better than a lot of other countries in the Caribbean,” said Bethel.

“I’m hoping to get back, rebuild and hopefully help some of our neighbors get back to life as usual,” said one passenger.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard sent in four C-130 Mammoth airplanes filled with many of the things South Floridians needed to get back on their feet.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 356 cancelled flights at FLL. Officials are hoping those numbers will go down as the days progress. They recommend passengers check the status of their flights with their airlines.

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