Family's dream turned to nightmare

Dominic Bareham A GORLESTON family have described how their dream holiday in a Caribbean paradise to mark a silver wedding anniversary turned into a nightmare when they were caught up in Hurricane Ike.

Dominic Bareham

A GORLESTON family have described how their dream holiday in a Caribbean paradise to mark a silver wedding anniversary turned into a nightmare when they were caught up in Hurricane Ike.

Steven and Christine Heard had saved up for their holiday of a lifetime with 12 relatives and friends, at the five star Playa Pesquera resort in Cuba to celebrate 25 years of marriage.

And, as family photos show, for the first three days the dream holiday was bliss as they lapped up glorious sunshine beneath palm trees and danced by the sea at the tropical haven.

The group had also enjoyed a celebratory meal at the aptly-named Romantica restaurant where they were serenaded by a pianist playing the Titanic movie theme tune My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion.

But only hours later joy was replaced by fear as the group were forced to hide in their ground floor bedrooms with emergency supplies of food, water and candles as the island was lashed by winds of up to 145mph.

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The roof was ripped off the three-storey hotel, exposing bedrooms, while trees were torn from roots and sun loungers hurled into the pool - one lounger hit a tree with such force it was bent around it in a U shape.

The horror unfolded at 7pm on September 7, five days into the dream holiday.

Earlier that day, hotel staff had told guests they needed to be in their rooms by 3pm as the hurricane approached Cuba, and they had been clearing away pedalos, catamarans and windsurfing boats in preparation for the storm.

Mr Heard said: “Things were banging against the door but over the next few hours the wind got stronger and stronger. Then we saw trees being pretty much split in half by the winds. At 10.30pm, I opened the curtains and the scene was unbelievable, like a warzone. The rain was so heavy it was like a fog and we were being flooded in our rooms.”

The holidaymakers also included two-year-old Ruby Allen with parents Sarah Jayne and Lee Allen. Mrs Allen gave her daughter her portable DVD player to take her mind off the hurricane noise.

At 11.10pm, a silence fell and the wind stopped. Staff warned guests to stay in their rooms as the hurricane's eye was passing over and the battering would soon start again.

It did, at midnight, and continued until 6am, with the water and power supplies.

Incredibly, hotel staff had many facilities up and running again by the following day, although one of the restaurants could not reopen after losing its roof. Communications were also down, but the family were able to use their mobiles for brief periods to ring home to let relatives know they were okay.

Tour operators told the family they had to leave the luxury accommodation two days later because of fears they could suffer from dysentery and they were moved to another hotel in Sol Rio De Mares.

But, unhappy in the new hotel which had also been hit badly by the hurricane, they decided to return home five days early taking a charter flight on September 11, having each paid £832 for their holiday.

Mr Heard said although they hoped to be compensated for the early end of their holiday, their thoughts were with the Cubans who had suffered most during the hurricane, but selflessly put the guests' well-being first.

He added: “We said for us it was a minor inconvenience. We came home to our nice homes and cars, but the poor people of Cuba have got to deal with it. One of the team at the resort's theatre had to walk 56km to see if his family was still alive.

“Many of them were not aware of what had happened to their relatives.”