Meliá Cuba vs. Irma, a story of bravery and resilience

Meliá Cuba vs. Irma, a story of bravery and resilience

“What’s all the fuss about?” Harold asked his wife when he overheard some clients speaking about Irma in the lobby of Sol Cayo Coco.

“Seems we will be evacuated because of the storm” replied Made while their 8 month- old son smiled at them innocently.

For this Cuban family, as for six hundred more people peacefully enjoying of holidays at Meliá Cuba’s beach resorts in Jardines del Rey, Irma was just another fierce hurricane in the Atlantic at the time, one like many others that might hit the keys, until, in the morning of 7th September 2017, the probability became reality and the storm turned into an imminent threat.

“We were sent to Havana in the last flight” Harold tells us, also recalling what he said to his new British holiday-friend, who was listed for a later road transfer.

“I was born here David and lived too many cyclones already” “Trust me, there’s no civil defense system like the Cuban” “You and your family are going to be fine”.

Twenty four hours before one of the strongest and biggest hurricanes in history battered the island’s north coast; thousands of tourists were moved from the keys to safer locations in Havana and Varadero. Within 12 hours guests of 20 nationalities found themselves safe and sound in other hotels or back home, transported in rescue flights arranged by tour operators.

Thousands of Clients were evacuated to safer locations

“Some of them were terrified when they arrived” … “But not our team” Raul, one of our Varadero employees, remembers.

After a vast experience facing hurricanes, Cubans are always prepared, even the little ones, whose educational programs at primary schools comprise classes related to prevention of disasters.

Irma stroked the Eastern coast first. The winds beating at more than 100 kms away from the eye, whipped the coast of Playa Esmeralda where 800 guests at Sol Rio de Luna y Mares and Paradisus Rio de Oro remained unharmed thanks to the preventive measures taken by their employees and local authorities.

It was a fact that the cyclone would soon blow in Jardines Del Rey and Cayo Santa Maria.

Deriving from a Germanic word, the name Irma stands for “powerful and immense”. No other natural phenomenon has honored its appellation with such accuracy. So when it attacked the Northern Cuban keys on the evening of 8th September we knew it was going to be a serious problem.  

Varadero got hit hours later when “the blowing monster” was almost stationary, indecisive whether to head northwards.

Clients at resorts were instructed to keep calm in their rooms or were concentrated in the safest areas.

“There were several tense hours down in the basement, which was the place we safeguard them in” remembers Elizabeth, an employee at Meliá las Américas. We felt sorry for the clients, some of them were very nervous.

For Lynn Nichols, one of the guests evacuated from Cayo Coco, the staff was the real hero: “We were relocated to Meliá Las Américas, your teams are a credit for the company and Cuba…their kindness and bravery are like nothing I’ve seen before”.

“Cuban people are awesome, even in tough times” Bertrand and Marcela say. These two repeating guests lived Irma at Paradisus Varadero on their 19th journey to the island. “It’s the joie of vivre”, expresses the Frenchman in admiration…even in difficult times Cubans will always smile”

The hurricane abandoned the island on Sunday the 10th leaving behind considerable material losses and ten Cuban citizens dead. The Havana Malecón was washed by 9 meter-waves, 24 hours after Melia Cohiba’s personnel and lodgers were evacuated to Tryp Habana Libre and Meliá Habana.

During the storm, thousands of homes were affected by floods whilst others lost their roofs. People were deprived from their personal belongings and business and hotels resulted severely damaged.

By the time Irma approached Florida, Cuba was in total blackout.

It’s time for Recovery

Breaking the tragic pattern of the date, on September 11th the largest island in the Caribbean was ready for recovery. Our immediate task was to assess the level of damage in each region in order to plan work to restore hotels and destinations. A head count of casualties in the war against Irma provided a first positive outcome: “zero lives had been lost”.

Employees emerged again as the champions of the story. After several days preparing for the meteorological irregularity, the staff worked the deed of the season: with patience, organizational skills and bravery as superpowers, they kept everyone safe to tell the story.

Our hotels in Holguin and Havana resumed operations right away. Varadero followed. Resorts were up and running in record time, except for Melia Peninsula Varadero and Paradisus Varadero. They will remain temporarily closed until the upcoming winter season as well as hotels in Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Santa Maria where fierce Irma blew without mercy.

At Meliá Cuba, the story of recovery has been a novel of endurance and solidarity in which clients and staff have played the leading roles with merit.

“We had a fantastic holiday despite of Irma” a British client spoke her testimony at Sol Palmeras while in another resort of the region dozens signed a poster in which the words “I survived Irma hurricane at Melia Las Antillas” had been inscribed.

After the storm, hotels in Cuba received thousands of messages of love, support and concern. The clients that outlived the turmoil joined the work to restore the affected areas and structures.

Clients helping with recovery work at Sol Palmeras

Little by little, calm resumes and a spirit of optimism takes over. “We will have our hotels ready and fully operational by the commencement of the winter season” the Cuban Minister of Tourism has said.

In the meantime, the waters of Cayo Coco have recovered their turquoise splendor.

Harold and many others could come back soon, to write, in the white sand, a new after Irma story.