From the front lines: Inside a hotel in a disaster zone

Watching from a distance, Joe Hart could tell from the storm clouds that no planes would be able to fly out of Grosvenor House Hotel on the Isle of Wight. Instead, a helicopter would bring the guests to the mainland. It had happened before, but never before had all of them been trapped together.

Most of the families on the island, which is located off the southwest coast of England, travel at the same time every weekend, so there are always some people traveling on the same route, said Ms. Hart, the hotel’s new owner. It is two hours by ferry to Southampton. So in the evening, Mr. Hart made a decision: Those who were planning to fly out were invited to drive to the coast, and Ms. Hart — who lives in London — volunteered to stay for a few days.

At first, as Ms. Hart worried about the safety of her guests, Mr. Hart stayed on the lower floor of the hotel and found a place to crash on the couch. But after about three nights, the wind and rain subsided and skies cleared. The hotel set up its own emergency operations center and began communicating with nearby airports to receive the first planes out.

For three days, the guests stayed inside Grosvenor House, in different parts of the hotel each night. They waited for two or three planes to arrive. And waited. Many didn’t make it home until Monday evening.

It was like a war zone in there,” Mr. Hart said. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing and you just couldn’t believe it. This should never happen in a quiet hotel.

Leave a Comment