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Irma evacuations the most complicated since Sept. 11, says Air Canada

Click to play video: 'Families disappointed by government response to Canadians stranded by Hurricane Irma' Families disappointed by government response to Canadians stranded by Hurricane Irma
Mon, Sep 11: Families with loved ones in hurricane-ravaged parts of the Caribbean are calling out the federal government for not acting fast enough. Shallima Maharaj spoke with one family trying desperately to get their son home – Sep 11, 2017

MONTREAL – Evacuating customers from areas in the path of the deadly Hurricane Irma has frustrated some passengers but Air Canada says it was perhaps the most complex manoeuvre since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The country’s largest airline has had to respond to natural disasters like the Japanese tsunami, Haiti earthquake, Iceland volcano and several terrorist attacks. But the breadth of the storm and time spent dealing with it made it the most complicated in 16 years, says Kevin O’Connor, managing director of systems operations control.

O’Connor acknowledged that there have been some complaints, but he said responding to the storm isn’t as simple as just adding a few flights.

READ MORE: Canadians left stranded by Hurricane Irma blast Ottawa for not doing enough to help

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“These are not global hubs that can handle dozens and dozens of aircraft on the ground at a single time.”

An Air Canada passenger plane, for example, wasn’t allowed to leave the Turks and Caicos with evacuees for several days.

Local authorities had safety concerns as the airport was badly damaged by Irma, but the plane was scheduled to leave late Monday after Canadian officials negotiated its departure, said Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

WATCH: Trudeau says government will assist those dealing with aftermath of Hurricane Irma

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says government will assist those dealing with aftermath of Hurricane Irma' Trudeau says government will assist those dealing with aftermath of Hurricane Irma
Trudeau says government will assist those dealing with aftermath of Hurricane Irma – Sep 11, 2017

“I certainly understand how (the Canadians still in the region) are feeling stressed and I can understand how their relatives are feeling stressed,” Garneau said. “But quite often there is a logical explanation.”

The federal government said it had received requests for assistance from 368 Canadians, though they acknowledged there may have been others who hadn’t yet been able to get in contact with Global Affairs.

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A storm of criticism erupted over the weekend from family and friends of Canadians trapped by the hurricanes, who questioned why more wasn’t done sooner.

WATCH: Latest news on Hurricane Irma

Many noted that the U.S. and several other countries had deployed their militaries to evacuate citizens and wondered why Canada hadn’t done the same and was instead relying on commercial airlines.

One of the Canadian Armed Forces’ massive C-17 transport planes is scheduled to ferry humanitarian supplies to the region later this week and will be available to evacuate any stragglers.

In all, Air Canada say it has operated 24 special flights over three days and transported nearly 7,000 passengers.

It’s not alone in making the last-minute adjustments. WestJet, Air Transat, Sunwing and U.S. carriers also went into action.

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READ MORE: Canadians who were barred from flight leaving Irma-ravaged Turks and Caicos cleared to fly home

WestJet Airlines operated 22 rescue flights — 18 before the hurricane to the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Florida and four after the storm to St. Maarten and the Turks and Caicos.

Sunwing Airlines said it has sent nearly 30 flights to return customers from destinations under hurricane watch or warning.

It said the high number of passengers in Cuba, unexpected airport closures and the complexity of transporting people to the airport complicated the effort.

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