Sunday, October 30, 2005

London Friends' Hurricane Hell

By Justin Cohen - Friday 28th of October 2005

The holiday of a lifetime turned into a nightmare for three Jewish friends from London this week after Hurricane Wilma left them stranded in Mexico without food or water.

Bianca Weber and sisters Natalie and Nicolette Berg were confined to their resort room in Talum for four days as the devastating storm battered the country with 150mph winds, claiming at least six lives.

The hurricane, which had been one of the most powerful on record as it approached the region, destroyed hundreds of houses in its path and left many holidaymakers living on the streets.

Speaking last night from Cancun, where the trio were still among thousands of stranded Britons waiting to fly home, Weber told the Jewish News of the group’s ordeal as Wilma swept through.

Insisting the roaring hurricane sounded like a train outside the hotel, where they were holed up ankle deep in water, the sales executive said: “From when we were confined to the room on Thursday, we had no food or electricity, and we only had two litres of water. That was all we had to eat or drink. I was doing nothing other than sleeping and feeling very weak. For the rest of the time, all I was thinking was please let me get out of here alive.”

The 28-year-old, who lives in Golders Green, had no contact with her parents in South Africa until she was finally told she could leave the dark room on Sunday. Then, she had a 40-minute journey to use a telephone, only to find a three-hour queue ahead of her . She said: “It was amazing when I got through. At least they knew I was alive. My family feared we could be dead because we had no contact with the outside world. When you haven’t heard from your children for that period of time you assume the worse.” Weber later got a lift back to the hotel on the back of a truck.

The three friends, who were due to fly home last weekend, still don’t know when they will finally be able to return to the UK. But they have been informed they will first have to travel to the Dominican Republic and won’t not be able to take any luggage.

Despite her ordeal 5,000 miles from her north London home, Weber acknowledged there were many others left in a far worse state by Hurricane Wilma. “Thank God I was in a five-star resort. It definitely increased my chances of survival. There were some people who moved here from the convention centre where they were sheltering who now have dysentery and other health problems,” she said. “I can’t wait to get home.”

Bianca’s dad, Maurice, said: “It was a living nightmare. There were moments when I had my doubts as to whether they were alive or not. I spent my time on the internet trying to locate where they were and looking for organisations that might be able to help.”

After contacting Chabad, he was told that they would have somewhere to stay and be looked after if they were able to get to Guadalajara or Mexico City.

Further east in Florida, there were reports of succahs being ripped out of the ground when the hurricane struck.

According to Chabad of Hallandale’s representative Rabbi Rephael Tennenhaus, telephone pole wires shook “like lulavs”. But the rabbi said he expected the hurricane to cause more people than usual to attend simchat torah festivities as many had been prevented from cooking.

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