Flood water covers tiny island in the Maldives

by Jessica Gunn , Monday 31st January 2005 16:36
The waves hit us at 10.15am, which was really a blessing as guests were eating breakfast or already by the pool. If it had hit us three hours earlier, guests would have still been in their bedrooms and the outcome would have been very different.

The flood came in waves every six seconds, increasing in intensity. From the fourth wave onwards, the water started to flood the island. The whole incident was over in about two minutes. Because the island is so low - it's only about three metres high - it was like one mass of water leaping over the whole island and going out over the other side. There was no resistance to the water, no receding - that was another blessing.

The wave crossed the island at about 1.5m high, rising to more than 2m inside the guest bungalows. Anything not rooted on to the ground was carried across the 80m island and into the lagoon on the other side. Golf buggies, refrigerators, poolside furniture - it was all carried across the island and into the sea.

People saw the wave coming. Staff got everyone out of the pool and called guests back from the beach. Employees jumped into the sea and pulled people out and some children were put into life vests and put into the few boats we had.

Looking back at the disorder, it was a miracle that nothing more happened. One guest was hit by the wave, sucked into the pool and held on to the pillars that support the roof of the bar. I consider myself so lucky that nothing more happened. You don't really realise how lucky you are until days later and you see what has happened in other places. When you see the damage that was done, that makes you understand the force of the water.

The first thing we did after the wave was count everybody - guests and employees. It was a very stressful moment but we accounted for everyone in about 45 minutes. Two dive boats and a surf boat had been out in the water but all three came back. It was a big, big relief.

It became clear guests couldn't stay in their accommodation as 80% was destroyed. Staff shared rooms so guests could stay there until Four Seasons chartered a plane to fly them out.

The following day we went over to the neighbouring island of Bodu Huraa, which was affected more than us and where many of our staff and their families live. Several houses were washed completely away and many left uninhabitable. About 200 people were left homeless.

First we pulled over a water pipe from the hotel so we were able to supply drinking water to the island. Then we got food aid, medication and our doctor over. We have made some of our staff accommodation available to people who are homeless.

We also have a crew ship, the Four Seasons Explorer - it's the only product that is still operating for the time being. When international aid started arriving, it ended up stuck at the airport as distribution was a real challenge at the beginning. The boat has proved invaluable to the national security services for delivering international aid around the country.

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