By James Wilkinson in Cebu, Philippines
First there was a slight shake and then it hit. At 8:12am, the Philippines city of Cebu was struck by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that caused severe damage and took at least 20 lives across the region.
I was one of over 150 delegates attending Carlson’s Asia-Pacific General Managers Conference at the Radisson Blu Cebu Hotel when the 20-storey tower was severely jolted from side to side for more almost two minutes, causing guests to flee the 420-room upper-upscale hotel.
The earthquake, which struck underneath the island of Bohol, located to the South East of the heavily populated Cebu City, was one of the largest on record this year and was quite simply terrifying, particularly from where I was at the time on level 19.
My corner room was swaying with the building from side to side and as the pressure built up, tiles started falling and smashing in the bathroom and cracks started appearing on the walls.
Carlson Rezidor’s President for Asia-Pacific, Simon Barlow, was immediately above in the executive lounge on the hotel’s 20th floor, having a coffee just minutes before we were due to meet and conduct a video interview for HM.
“I’ve been in the business for 33 years and dealt with everything from suicides to accidents, but I’ve never been in an earthquake,” he told HM. “And, I’ve never been more scared in all my life.
“I was in the executive lounge, which was like a glass box when the earthquake hit.
“After you get over the terror, the first thing you think is I’m never going to see my wife and kids again,” Barlow said.
Dealing with not knowing if you’ll escape or see your family ever again was something running through my mind at the same time as well.
You grab what you can – in my case my laptop, camera and passport – and make a beeline for the nearest exit.
Then moment you see a staff member telling you which way to go, you immediately feel a sigh of relief.
The staff were brilliant and they immediately stepped-up, something Barlow has praised them for.
“I couldn’t have been prouder of how well the hotel coped with the incident,” he said. “Once the shaking stopped, the training of [General Manager] Lyle Lewis’ staff immediately kicked in and they started ushering people to exits.
“How well the staff performed in this situation reinforces the message that when you are an an emerging country, you should be staying in an internationally-branded hotel where staff are trained to handle emergencies like this.
“No matter which Carlson Rezidor hotel someone stays at anywhere in the world, they can be assured their comfort, safety and wellbeing will always be our first priority,” he said.
Once guests evacuated the hotel via the fire stairs, the staff, led by Australian GM Lewis, from the hotel immediately came to the aid of guests with water and towels to escape the 31-degree temperatures outside.
The staff were efficient and within minutes of the quake were handing out food and drinks for guests, as well as setting up chairs on the lawn and soon after, erecting a marquee with a buffet.
Inside the hotel, the quake caused substantial cosmetic damage to rooms – in the case of broken tiles and glass in bathrooms, and cracks in walls – but the property weathered the shake significantly well.
Following the clearance from engineers, staff set up roll-away beds for guests in the hotel’s ballrooms for those who elected not to sleep in their rooms and kept the food, water and soft drinks flowing for the entire day.
Only 18 rooms inside the Radisson Blu Cebu Hotel were undamaged in the shake, which the night before was a scene of celebration with Carlson’s annual Asia-Pacific Awards held in the hotel ballroom.