LIAT’s Chief Executive Officer, Julie Reifer-Jones has affirmed the regional airline’s continued support of relief efforts to hurricane ravished Caribbean nations.
“We of course give all the support we can to territories and one form of that is to provide relief flights to assist persons to come out,” she explained, noting that in some cases airports were damaged or destroyed by the killer hurricanes that hit the region in recent weeks.
She was speaking at an event hosted by FirstCaribbean International Bank at its Warrens, St Michael headquarters on Thursday to announce plans to sponsor a relief flight for Dominicans relocating to Barbados temporarily due to damage caused byHurricane Maria.
The top airline executive said because of the interconnectedness of Caribbean islands, people would have relatives in unaffected countries and LIAT was offering them an opportunity to leave the hurricane ravaged islands to find refuge in another regional territory until their homelands returned to a state of normalcy.
“Whether it is in Tortola, St Maarten or Dominica, many of them have families in Antigua [or elsewhere] and it is an opportunity to leave the country and go to another territory for a little while.”
She said LIAT had so far completed 54 relief flights and carried about 1 000 passengers as well as 30 000 tonnes of cargo.
“LIAT has been very proud to be a part of that relief effort so far, we have done 54 relief flights, many of these to Dominica,” she said.
Reifer-Jones explained, however, the regional airline faced limitations in the amount of cargo it could carry on each aircraft.
She assured though that LIAT would continue to help with the relief efforts in Antigua and Dominica and to evacuate persons who had special needs.
CIBC First Caribbean’s Director of Corporate Communications Debra King said that aboard the LIAT-sponsored flight they encountered a cross section of young, elderly and vulnerable.
King said the partnership with LIAT fell under the scope of work to which its ComTrust Foundation was committed.
“It is a part of the mandate of the foundation. We operate on three pillars – young people and education, community outreach, and health and wellness,” King said.
Reifer-Jones, responding to a question regarding what she and her team saw on the ground of the ravished countries, said that it was a traumatic experience.
“Most devastation was in Dominica and to be honest it is traumatic for anyone who has been through that experience. Some of the first-hand experiences that LIAT has heard where through our employees. For example, the employees in Dominica are impacted as [their] house or their roof is gone,” she said.
She explained that some LIAT employees were now homeless and the company was helping the affected workers and their families.
The airline’s CEO said one of her flight attendants had indicated that they had still unable to contact their family.
“One of the impacts that left a really strong influence on me is just hearing from some of our flight attendants, because of course we are a regional airline and all of our employees are from the islands, quite a few of the pilots and attendants are from Dominica. The level of anxiety and stress of not knowing what happened to [your] their family after an event like that,” she said.
“Some of our employees on the ground now cannot reach the airport. There are still access issues; issues impacting how their day to day life is taking place now, she said.
Noting that it was difficult for some people to fully comprehend the plight of affected persons, she said: “It is hard for us to understand when we are out of it. But when you interact with persons who have been impacted it has really been devastating. It is a horrible experience . . . . We accept it as a part of life in the Caribbean but it is not something you want to go through, she said.