The Aftermath of Hurricane Irma & Maria at Ports of Call Resort and the Turks & Caicos Islands
On September 7th, 2017, the 30-mile eye of Category 5 Hurricane, Irma, one of the strongest most sustaining Atlantic hurricanes in history hovered over TCI for approximately 10 hours, leaving a significant amount of wind and water damage. While the island was extremely lucky to avoid the anticipated 20 ft. storm surge, and did not sustain the severe damage that other islands like Barbuda, St Maarten and Puerto Rico did, it was a very scary night for our staff, guests and residents of the Turks and 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.
It is now 3 weeks since Irma and Maria struck, and while we have closed the resort to the public until Nov 25th (with the exception of relief workers, a few desperate local families who lost their homes and to our staff), the hotel grounds are completely cleaned up, repairs have been initiated and we are eagerly awaiting the installation of our new roof membrane so that we can complete the room upgrades that were begun before the assault of Irma.
Thanks to the donations that have been received to date (as well as the anticipation of more to come) and the Papke family pledge to match the donations dollar for dollar, a container of beds, mattresses, dressers, fridges, stoves, and TV’s and building materials is on its way to assist our staff rebuilding their lives.
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. For those who haven’t done so yet and are interested, you can donate here: https://www.youcaring.com/portsofcallresortstaff-946674