Air Transat working to ferry travellers out of Dominican Republic ahead of Irma

Air Transat says it has launched an evacuation operation to get all its travellers out of the Dominican Republic ahead of the arrival of hurricane Irma.

The Montreal-based airline says it is sending 10 aircraft to the Caribbean nation - seven to Punta Cana, two to Puerto Plata and one to Samana.

Air Transat says all aircraft should arrive in the Dominican Republic by Wednesday morning and passengers should be back in Canada by afternoon or early evening.

The holiday travel airline did not say how many of its travellers will board the flights back to Canada.

Irma, considered the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history, was bearing down on the islands of the northeast Caribbean late Tuesday, following a path predicted to then rake Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida.

American Airlines has added extra flights out of the Caribbean islands of St. Maarten and St. Kitts and Nevis to get people out of the path of Irma.

At the far northeastern edge of the Caribbean, authorities on the Leeward Islands of Antigua and Barbuda have cut power and urged residents to shelter indoors as they braced for Hurricane Irma's first contact with land early Wednesday.

The Category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 295 kilometres per hour, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said his government was evacuating the six islands in the south because authorities would not be able to help anyone caught in the "potentially catastrophic" storm.

People there would be flown to Nassau starting Wednesday in what he called the largest storm evacuation in the country's history.