About 70 anguished Venezuelans who were stranded at Miami International Airport for more than a week because of Hurricane Irma were finally able to fly out Tuesday.
But the flight was not to Caracas, it was to the Dominican Republic.
“We're confirmed to Santo Domingo,” said Francoise Viera, one of the Venezuelans who had been living within a circle of suitcases in front of the counter of Santa Bárbara airline. The Venezuela-based airline canceled all its flights out of MIA from Sept. 8-12.
Although many airlines had to cancel flights to and from Miami because of Irma, Santa Bárbara's passengers complained the airline abandoned them, offering them no help or information and forcing them to camp out in front of its counter.
Their flight Tuesday to Santo Domingo was put on by PAWA — a Dominican airline affiliated with Santa Bárbara — specifically to carry the estimated 70 Venezuelans stranded at MIA.
But some of the Venezuelans said they did not trust the arrangement. Viera said the group had been checked in only to the Las Américas airport in Santo Domingo, and they have no official guarantee that they will fly on to Caracas.
“We're going on a prayer,” she said. “I am going, hoping that they don't leave us stranded in Santo Domingo.”
Viera, who was traveling with her two children, showed el Nuevo Herald a boarding pass with a handwritten note in blue ink. “Supposedly, we will hand this over and they will change it” in Santo Domingo to a boarding pass for Caracas, she said.
The group was told that the Venezuelans would fly on to Caracas aboard an Aserca Airlines flight.
But the Santo Domingo airport's web page did not show any Aserca flights scheduled for Tuesday. The Dominican Republican is now under a hurricane warning because of Hurricane Maria and its strongest winds are expected on Wednesday, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.
At the Santa Bárbara counter at MIA, Luz Sánchez had a teary goodby with her mother, Martha Albor, who decided to take the PAWA flight despite the uncertainty. “You can imagine my anguish,” Sánchez said.
Sánchez expressed her dissatisfaction with the Venezuelan airline. “The people managed to get out only because we slept at the airport. That is not fair,” she said.
Sánchez added that a Santa Bárbara official had told her that “you don’t have to work in NASA to know that Santa Bárbara always has delays.”
As the 70 Venezuelans flew out Tuesday, another group of at least 15 turned up during the day at the Santa Bárbara counter, saying they had not been able to leave the United States because of the airline's cancellations.
A post in Santa Bárbara's Twitter account said passengers affected by Hurricane Irma have until Sept. 30 to reschedule their flights, without any penalties or change in fees.
The Venezuelans who managed to fly out credited the PAWA flight to pressure applied by MIA officials, the office of Sen. Marco Rubio and the news media.
“We are very happy that the situation was resolved and that they can return home,” a Rubio spokesman said.
Follow Johanna A. Álvarez on Twitter: @jalvarez8.