A Crumlin woman has spoken of how she and her daughter survived the ultimate holiday from hell in Cuba, when one of the worst hurricanes to hit the country in 80 years struck the island.
Lottie McCreanor and her daughter Beverley Wright were among hundreds evacuated from their holiday resort at Cayo Coco last month. They spent over nine hours on a coach before they reached a safer area as part of an evacuation plan.
They witnessed the aftermath of the category five storm, which struck the island in early September, and saw how it ravaged infrastructure throughout the country, causing power cuts, damaging trees and crops while creating 20 feet high waves in the sea.
They feared they would never see loved ones again as they took cover in a hotel basement along with 500 others for a whopping 17 hours as Hurricane Irma ripped through the island.
Lottie and Beverley, who flew to Cuba from London on September 3, had only spent two days at their idyllic hotel when the drama unfolded.
The duo had heard no weather warnings or news reports relating to the storm. The first they knew of the storm was through a travel rep, a day after they landed.
The holiday was booked at Christmas for the pair to stay at the beautiful Melia Cayo Coco Hotel, an outstanding resort where they had stayed just a few years before.
A day after their arrival they attended a welcome meeting, where they were first made aware of the hurricane threat.
They were told by their holiday rep that a hurricane was about to strike the country later that week, but she reassured them that everything was going to be alright and they would all be safe and there was no need to worry. She even took bookings for trips for the Crumlin pair to go on later that week.
“We have been on holiday in the Caribbean before and it has never really bothered us to book at this time of year,” Lottie said.
“We always go away in September, during the hurricane season and we have been to Cuba before.
“I have been to the Caribbean when it has been really bad so I’m used to their weather.
“We never go back to the same place but we really liked this particular place in Cuba and promised ourselves that we would be back. I loved the hotel, the resort and the people.”
However, two days into the holiday, the holiday rep returned to the hotel to give the holidaymakers more news.
She told the tourists that some of the trips they had booked had been cancelled.
They were later to learn that an evacuation plan was under way for all tourists in the area. They were told they would have to leave by coach to another, safer part of the country.
At hearing the news, an anxious Lottie was so worried that she was severely sick before the bus even left the hotel.
The pair travelled in one of nine buses, during a very long nine and a half hour trip across the country - with a police escort.
There were just two short stops during the journey, and when they eventually arrived at another hotel, they were given a long awaited room.
It was the manager of their new hotel who told them to brace themselves for a very dangerous, life-threatening category five storm.
All 500 people at the hotel were told to take cover in the basement until the storm passed. Little did they know they would be in the basement for 17 hours.
“I thought my legs would not be able to carry me to the basement. I was so shocked. I was powerless,” Lottie continued.
Having been sat beside a generator, the Crumlin woman didn’t hear the storm pass by.
They were later to learn that Cuba took the brunt of the storm as the hurricane left 20 people dead in the Caribbean, and at least 10 people in the capital Havana alone were killed.
“Our rep, Maria was great,” said Lottie. “She really looked after us really well, not knowing even if her own family were safe. I really appreciated that level of commitment.
“The rep kept all of us up to date with all developments.”
When Lottie eventually returned to her room, she saw the devastation the storm had left behind. Luckily her room was fine, but many of the other bedrooms were submerged in water and the dining room and the bar were badly damaged.
They were later told that their original hotel they had been staying in had been totally destroyed.
Though the pair had travelled from London, Beverley and Lottie took an emergency flight to Manchester and then a connecting flight back to Belfast.
“Anyone who knows me knows I am not a depressed person but I had this depression come over me after the storm. I was just waiting to go home,” Lottie continued.
“When we were told that we would be leaving as early as Thursday the depression just lifted. I was never as glad to see Belfast in my life.
“We had two days in Cuba before we were evacuated, so we really only had two days of a holiday. The rest of the holiday was a disaster.
“I loved Cuba but I can safely say I’ll never go back again.
“I don’t think Beverley and I ever wanted to show each other at the time just how frightened we were. It was really scary.
“If I had known just how bad it was going to be I would never have gone on the holiday in the first place.
“Some people were annoyed that their holiday was cut short and had to return home early. I was only too glad to get home early.
“I haven’t cried yet but I got quite emotional when my husband, Frank greeted me at the airport. I never thought I would see him again.”