No place like home for tourism chief

STEPHEN PULLINGER A Yarmouth tourism officer officer has returned safe and sound to her desk after experiencing the terrifying force of Hurricane Dean.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

Where should the marketing manager of Norfolk's biggest resort go for her own summer holiday?

Some might say that as the 52 weeks-a-year champion of the great British seaside it would be strange to choose such an exotic location as the Caribbean.

And having returned safe and sound to her desk at Yarmouth's tourism offices yesterday after experiencing the terrifying force of Hurricane Dean, Nicola Gibson might be ready to agree with them.

For 31-year-old Ms Gibson, choosing the Starfish Trelawny resort on Jamaica's north coast was literally a last-minute decision - and there was no sign of the impending storm when she and her friend, Sherry Johnstone, booked on August 14.

"The forecasts said there might be some rain and even some thunderstorms, which is to be expected at this time of the year, but we did not become aware of the hurricane until August 17, two days before it struck," she said.

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"The next day was like the lull before the storm - where there had been wind before, it was still and the sea was calm.

"But when we got up on the 19th, which was a Sunday, the skies were grey, it was rainy and the wind was already getting up. We were told we could be close to the eye when the hurricane struck later in the day."

Ms Gibson, of Yarmouth Road, Norwich, said there was a sombre mood at the all-inclusive resort and guests were called to a series of emergency meetings with hotel managers.

"We were quite looking forward to experiencing a hurricane, but I was suddenly scared when they told us we might see 4x4s, trees and even limbs flying past," she said.

While the worst that could face holidaymakers in Yarmouth might be a quick dash inside shops to avoid showers, the Starfish Trelawny guests had to evacuate their rooms and spend hours battened down in the hotel's conference hall with the wind howling and rain lashing down.

Ms Gibson said: "There were hundreds of people in the hall and the families seemed very scared."

The eye of the hurricane skirted the south of the island, but when guests went outside the next morning they still found extensive damage.

"Trees had fallen down everywhere, the swimming pools were full of debris and had crabs in them, and the bamboo craft village outside the resort had been completely devastated," she said.

Ms Gibson and her friend spent the rest of the day helping village traders carry out emergency repairs and said that turned out to be a holiday highlight."I am not a fan of all-inclusives and without the hurricane we would not have got to meet the locals as the resort staff say it is too dangerous to go outside," she said.

However, reflecting on her experience, she said it would definitely make her think twice about taking children on holiday to somewhere like the Caribbean.

And she admitted that perhaps next time California might be a good destination (the one a few miles along the coast from Yarmouth, that is).

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