Marriott slammed for ‘abandoning’ hurricane survivors

Coast Guard Cutter Valiant crew bring a dog aboard the cutter after evacuating more that 95 people and pets from St. Thomas as part of Hurricane Irma response and relief efforts. Source: Reuters

HOTEL giant Marriott International is in hot water for leaving nearly three dozen people stranded on St Thomas, a gateway isle of the US Virgin Islands that was ravaged by Hurricane Irma.

The Washington Post reported that Marriott had chartered a ferry to rescue hurricane victims from the island, but only allowed on-board those who were registered at a Marriott property. St Thomas has a series of lavish hotels and resorts helmed by Marriott.

The Post said “three dozen people — tourists not staying at Marriott hotels who had also ridden out the hurricane — watched as the vessel pulled away with hundreds of empty seats”.

Eyewitnesses claimed the boat – which was headed to Puerto Rico – was “large” and had many seats available.

“It was really hard to see people with kids and elderly people who don’t have anywhere to stay get turned away by this boat,” Cody Howard, a professional storm chaser who had been contracted to shoot weather footage on the island, told the publication.

“For some people, that was the only [glimmer] of hope. After the boat left, they just felt hopeless and helpless.”

Naomi Ayala, a Dallas resident who had been vacationing on the island, also recounted that the boat had plenty of room.

“They had 600 and something seats. They filled it with 300 Marriott guests and there are 35 people over here waiting and we can’t get on this large boat that will hold at least 2[00] to 300 more people.”

In an interview with Forbes, Tim Sheldon, president of the Caribbean and Latin America for Marriott International, said that the company had to operate within “strict parameters” because of “governmental entities with power over exits and documentation on the island”.

He said: “We did everything we could to help, ultimately to no avail. Approximately 35 people who were not Marriott guests, and therefore whose names were not on the detailed manifest required by the local authorities, arrived at the dock gates wanting passage off the island.”