A COUPLE with 10-month-old twins have spoken of their harrowing ordeal at a Caribbean resort that was ravaged by Hurricane Irma.
Michelle Goulden, 36, and her fiancé Mark Caunce, 41, flew out to the paradise islands of Turks and Caicos on Sunday, September 3.
It was meant to be an idyllic, sun-drenched family holiday with twins Milo and Meryn, and Michelle's parents Mo, 66, and Billy, 68.
But just three days later Irma had been upgraded to an “extremely dangerous” category five storm and a hurricane watch was issued for the islands.
Michelle, who grew up in Ellesmere Port and went to school in Chester, said nothing could have prepared the family for when Irma struck several days later.
“The hurricane was terrifying,” she said. “You could see the trees being blown over and hear things being thrown against the building.
“The doors were shaking and creaking and water was coming in around the door and in to the room. We all slept in the same room for safety. The destruction was so devastating that in our previous room a tree came through the balcony, so we do feel very lucky.”
She added: “The hotel was hit badly. We were given food and water and the water in rooms was off on a few separate days. Staff were very good trying to look after the people still there but the management was very clear they wanted us out. The situation in general was an emotional rollercoaster.”
After the winds passed the family were then left for more than a week with no available flights back to the UK and in a hotel where they were made to feel unwanted.
Michelle, who works as an HR manager in Manchester, said: “Although the hotel looked after us it was clear they wanted us gone so we felt like a burden and an inconvenience, although it was not our fault we were stuck there.”
Rationed on food and water and with two hungry babies, she contacted the Standard while holed up in their hotel after becoming frustrated with the lack of action from British Airways and Sandals Resorts.
After flying to nearby Antigua for a flight back to Gatwick on Tuesday (September 12) they were told they did not have confirmed seats on the BA flight and had to return to the hotel.
Michelle said: “I felt distraught, we wanted to get home but we needed to make sure our children were okay and didn't feel BA cared at all.”
To rub salt into the wounds, she said their holiday company, Thomson, had also told them they would not be eligible for any refund from Sandals.
But following an enquiry by this newspaper, BA then called the family on Wednesday to apologise for the mix-up and offered them flights home today (Thursday, September 14).
A relieved Michelle, who attended Bishops' Blue Coat C of E High School in Chester, said she would be happy to finally get back to their home in Aspull, Greater Manchester.
She added: “The hurricane hit at the beginning of our holiday and at the end of my maternity leave so I was very upset and disappointed to have lost this first special experience with my children.”
A spokesman for British Airways said: “The safety and welfare of our customers and colleagues is always our number one priority.
“We have been closely monitoring developments across the region and have been in regular contact with customers, where infrastructure allowed, to keep them updated on changes and cancellations to flights.
“We have operated a number of additional services to help our customers, including chartering a pair of aircraft from a local airline in the Caribbean to fly customers staying in Turks and Caicos back to London via Antigua.
“We have apologised to the family for the mix up with the flights and are pleased we are able to fly them home.”
A spokesman for Sandals Resorts said: “As this is a natural disaster, there isn’t usually compensation offered. However, we are giving any guests who were in the resort when the hurricane hit a total of three credit nights.
“Guests who have to return early to the UK/cut their trip short as a result of a the hurricane will also get any unused nights back in credit.”
See full story in the Chester Leader