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Baha Mar criticized for closing during Hurricane Irma

The decision by Baha Mar, the new Bahamas megaresort near Nassau, to evacuate guests instead of sheltering them as Hurricane Irma approached has triggered criticism because nearby resorts remained open and even welcomed non-customers during the storm.

The Grand Hyatt Baha Mar shut down on Sept. 7, saying at the time that "guest services will resume as soon as it is safe for our guests and associates to return." The hotel reopened on Sept. 12. (The Grand Hyatt is currently the only hotel operating at the resort. The SLS and Rosewood aren't open yet).

"There were no guests in the hotel, as most volunteered to leave early prior to evacuation," Hyatt spokeswoman Shea Oliver said. "All went home and not to any shelters of any kind, as they left early."

She also said, "The team at Baha Mar and Grand Hyatt Baha Mar took every precaution and determined that because the island was within the projected path of one of the most severe hurricanes in recorded history, the best course of action was to take action while there was still time and safely evacuate all of our guests from the island. We worked with every in-house guest to support the rebooking of flights, arranged transportation and assisted with their travel needs."

Nassau and the entire island of New Providence was largely spared from the storm and actually welcomed evacuation flights from other parts of the Bahamas. Both the 694-room Melia Nassau Beach, which is about a quarter-mile west of Baha Mar, and the 3,400-room Atlantis Paradise Island, about 8 miles east, reported that no storm-related damage had been sustained.

Atlantis Paradise Island estimated that it had sheltered "hundreds of local residents" in addition to its 1,200 guests. The resort's president later took an indirect swipe at Baha Mar for its decision.

Though he did not mention his competition by name, Atlantis president Howard Karawan said, "It is during times like these that we see it as our moral responsibility to support the community as best as we can, not close our doors on them."

He added that many restaurants at Atlantis remained open during the storm.

Evacuation experts said the decision to remain open or evacuate is rarely clear-cut. George Haddow, a former deputy chief of staff at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said that in addition to questions about the level of on-site training, the ability for a hotel to generate power during a storm is also a factor.

Topography can come into play, as can the unpredictability of a hurricane's path. As a result, two resorts relatively near each other can be dealing with different risk factors, said Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina.

"Atlantis is close to the water, but it may not have the same [storm] surge action as Baha Mar," Cutter said. "Baha Mar is right on Goodman Bay, which has that kind of concave feature that may funnel some of the water a bit more."

Given that the Melia did not evacuate, however, Bahamas tourism officials have implied that one issue in the evacuation decision might have been Baha Mar's layout and the fact that its convention center is not physically attached to



The lesson for Houston: Never give up

Sherrie and I had our "Houston moment" back in 2010, though it was far less serious than the destruction wrought by Harvey.

We were headed home from the funeral of Sherrie's aunt. It had been raining the day of the funeral, and by the time it was over, the rain had intensified into a downpour.

We had planned to make our Saturday run to Costco that afternoon, but given how hard it was raining, we decided to go straight to the store. When we neared the store, high water had already blocked the access road we normally turned onto. No problem: We just went to the next street and drove to the parking lot.

When we came out 20 minutes later, the rain had grown even heavier, and the street we had used had been blocked, as well, making it necessary to take a circuitous route to get back to a main thoroughfare. For whatever reason, we decided to take a back route home rather than using the interstate.

On arriving home, we turned on the local news to learn that a flash flood had covered the interstate that we would normally have taken. Images of cars and tractor-trailers bobbing like corks and of people frantically trying to get to higher ground were chilling.

The rains continued for two more days, totaling about 13.5 inches, with some areas reporting more than 20 inches total, inundating areas that had never before seen standing water. The Cumberland River, with a flood stage of 35 feet, finally crested at nearly 52 feet several days after the rains ended. Floodwater covered more than 4,000 square miles of Middle Tennessee.

One of our daughters and her husband live on a hill. A wet-weather creek with 4-foot banks running beside their home normally has a flow of less than 4 inches. In a matter of a few hours, this creek had risen well over 6 feet, breached a retaining wall, filled an empty swimming pool in less than five minutes and flooded the lower level of their home. The damage total was more than $38,000.

Water filled the Titans football stadium to a depth of more than 6 feet. Mudslides swept homes off foundations. A person on a Jet Ski rescued an acquaintance of ours and her dog from the roof of their submerged home less than 30 seconds before a gas explosion demolished the house. Rushing water swept a citizen rescuer, our daughter's friend, off a bridge and to his death.

The people of Nashville came together in a mighty force, stepping in to help with cleanup for people they did not even know, sometimes driving 50 miles or more to do so. Race and ethnicity were irrelevant. Neighbors, even ones we didn't know, needed help, and the citizens of the Volunteer State stepped in and lived up to the appellation.

All told, some 31 people died; property damage exceeded $2.3 billion.

Despite all that, you probably never heard about any of this because it



Austin Adventures an independent company once again

Austin Adventures president Dan Austin has bought back the company from Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the conglomerate that acquired Austin Adventures in 2013.



Carnival Corp. pledges $10 million for Irma relief

Carnival Corp. and related entities have pledged $10 million toward hurricane relief in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which devastated parts of the Caribbean and Florida, including Miami-Dade County where Carnival has its headquarters.



Signature links up with agency network in Australia

Signature Travel Network has partnered with Australian travel agency network Magellan Travel Group, giving Magellan access to several Signature programs and supplier connections.



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