About 100 guests and hotel staff at the Riu Palace St.
Martin waited at the hotel for five days with no electricity or running water
after Hurricane Irma battered the island, before a special flight evacuated
them to Punta Cana on Sept 10.
Joachim Schoenfeldt, Riu Hotels & Resorts regional
director of sales for the Caribbean and Mexico, recounted how he helped to coordinate the rescue with limited communication between his base in Punta Cana and the St. Martin hotel.
"For the staff and the guests, it was difficult. There
was no electricity, no running water, only bottled water even for washing,"
he said, adding that the toilets didn't flush. There was a limited amount of
food but plenty of drinking water, he said.
Hotel staff stayed with the guests during the storm and its
aftermath, awaiting evacuation from the battered island. Schoenfeldt said employees
remained with guests despite many not knowing the condition of their own homes
and loved ones, he said.
"The most difficult part was the lack of electricity
and communication," he said. "We couldn't advise them, their families
couldn't get through to know how their loved ones were doing. That was the biggest
The Riu St Martin Is located in a remote part of the French
side of the island, making communication even more difficult.
Despite roads being in very bad condition, Riu and partner TUI
Group were able to arrange for buses to take guests to Princess Juliana Airport,
which was wrecked by Irma and only being used by military planes. However, a
Sunwing plane was permitted to fly evacuees to Punta Cana. (TUI is a Sunwing
"They got special permission to take the flight and had
to land and take off without a control tower, based only on what they could
see. No systems were working," he said.
Schoenfeldt said the storm was the worst hurricane disaster
he can remember.
"There have been other hurricanes but not like this,
not when 90% of a destination has been destroyed," he said.
Schoenfeldt said the Riu Palace St. Martin will likely be
closed until the end of April 2018.