Two Weeks and Two Hurricanes Later
The Aftermath of Hurricane Irma & Maria at Ports of Call Resort and the Turks & Caicos Islands
Almost three weeks after the two hurricanes, we are still receiving daily calls from our loyal guests and friends inquiring about their beloved island and our staff so I thought that it would be beneficial to provide details of both the ordeal and the outlook.
Wendy and I were not personally on the island during the initial onslaught of Irma as we had left the island two weeks earlier to shop for hotel supplies in Florida and head off to see the grandchildren. When word came out that Turks and Caicos was to be in the direct path of Irma, our staff prepared the hotel and plaza as they had so often done in the past for approaching hurricanes. We were fortunate that on the day of the hurricane, only a few guests were still at the resort as in the preceding week we had been slowly closing off rooms to start our planned room upgrades. This allowed us to provide rooms to our staff and their families as it was feared that many of their homes could not withstand the anticipated heavy winds and rain.
As news was released about the severity of the approaching hurricane and the devastation it had caused on other islands, our Manager Kendra Parker opened all our remaining available rooms to the locals and any stranded tourists that were showing up at our doors seeking shelter.
As the day went on, Ports of Call had over 200 persons in the hotel. Kendra even opened our Conference Room to accommodate the overload. By 5pm the winds and rain were strong but it was between the hours of 8pm and 2am when the worst of the hurricane hit and winds exceeded 180 mph. Guests and staff were instructed to not leave their rooms and specifically stay in the bathrooms away from the windows.
During the height of the storm the winds tore our solar system and roof membrane from the roof resulting in considerable water leakage into several of the rooms and the need to relocate some guests. We are extremely proud of the actions of several of our employees who risked their own lives assisting guests to relocate from one wing to the other in the 180 mph winds and torrential down pours.
After a long 10-hour night, Irma finally passed and the staff were able to assess the damages. While there was extreme damage to the roof membrane, solar system, many guest rooms and the surrounding trees and landscaping, I was happy to hear that none of our staff or guests were injured.
Unfortunately, many of the homes of our staff were severely damaged and even destroyed. To provide some relief, Kendra and I made the decision to open up the hotel to provide housing for our staff and families for the several months it will take them to rebuild or relocate.
We also agreed to provide rooms to over twenty local families who needed time to get their homes repaired.
As it turns out, Ports of Call was one of the few resorts on the island that welcomed locals as most of the resorts on the island are condo hotels where the management would have to get every unit’s owner’s approval before providing free or subsidized rooms.
On arriving at Ports of Call and seeing our resort’s damages, while a sobering experience, was not as difficult for me as I thought it would be for many reasons. Besides knowing that the resort could be repaired and be back in full operation within two months, I was comforted hearing from many guests telling me how courageous and wonderful the staff had been throughout the ordeal. I was also greeted and hugged by staff who had large smiles on their faces despite the fact that they had lost their homes and all their personal belongings.
In the initial week at the resort I assisted my management team organize a complete cleanup of the resort which included filling almost twenty dump trucks with fallen trees, shrubs and pieces of the roof. I also went with several of the staff to visit their destructed homes.
Back home in Toronto, our team had already established a fundraiser to assist the staff rebuild or relocate and it was so heart warming to see the number of past guests that were contributing.Then, two weeks after Irma, we were busy making preparations and hunkering down for another approaching Hurricane, Maria. Once again Ports of Call, despite our already damaged condition, opened our doors to the community, many of which had been living for the two weeks without power.
We were confident that Maria would not have the same 185 mph winds that Irma had but were hearing that it would bring significantly more rain and flooding, both of which would cause considerable more destruction to our already damaged resort. I remember sitting in my room and watching the wind bend the few remaining palm trees almost to the point of breaking and several times during the night we lost power, but fortunately, the heavy rains, flooding and storm surge never came, saving both the resort and the island from a second strike that could have ruined the tourist season.
We are also assessing the need and staff desire of providing inexpensive housing for many of our staff and their families.
The sun is shining, incredible Grace Bay Beach is as beautiful as ever and hopefully Irma, in another two months, will simply be a bad memory. The Turks and Caicos Tourism board did a great job in putting a video together to show you recent footage of the beach after the hurricane. Check it out below!
I know many of you will want to revisit the resort and island this winter to support the country and we all are eagerly looking forward to re-opening our doors on Nov 25th, 2017.
I personally want to thank all that emailed their prayers and concerns over the past weeks and especially those that found it in their hearts to donate to our staff relief fund.