LK: Tell us about a panic situation you saw in a hotel, caused by weather.
RT: We were documenting Hurricane Rita from a hotel in Orange, TX, in a pretty dangerous spot close to sea level with a dangerous storm surge expected. The hotel paid one of the security guards overtime to watch over the hotel during the hurricane and protect it from looters, and he seemed like a pretty level-headed guy at first, but when the tropical storm force winds starting pummeling the hotel, suddenly he panicked and clearly lost touch with reality. He said his mother was trapped in her house just down the street and he had to get to her. At this point the storm surge was still several hours away, so my friend Simon Brewer and some others from our team drove him to his mother's house to make sure she was okay.
As soon as Simon pulled up to the house, the security guard jumped out of the vehicle and ran full speed toward the front door, then punched out the front window with his bare fist. He broke his arm and got a huge laceration as a result. Simon realized shortly thereafter his mother wasn't at her house and had been evacuated to a shelter the day before. When the security guard returned to the hotel he was covered in blood and clearly in shock. We had to use a pizza box as a make-shift split for his broken arm. After riding out the hurricane in the hotel, and the front window blown out in the eye wall, we brought the security guard to the hospital as soon as conditions were sufficiently safe.
LK: What hotel would you feel safest in, during a super-storm that led to a total city shutdown?
RT: I would feel safest in a sturdy, concrete hotel with adjacent parking garage in a location where looting is unlikely. Resorts that have their own hired security are always the safest, especially if the hurricane is in a different country where law enforcement and government personal can lose control of whole cities during and after the worst natural disasters.
LK: What hotel would you be most afraid to be in during a Cat 5 hurricane/typhoon?
RT: The 15-20 foot storm surges that come with powerful tropical cyclones are like a tsunami, and after losing our chase vehicle to Hurricane Katrina and having to hitch a ride by fishing boat to evacuate the flood zone, I have immense respect for the power and danger of surges, especially with major hurricanes/typhoons. I would be most afraid riding out a Cat 5 storm when close to sea level and in a structure with only a few levels, all below the potential storm surge height. The worst-case scenario would be no escape route (i.e. concrete parking garage or road to higher ground).
While we're glad we've haven't witnessed even a shred of Timmer's experiences ourselves, we now know to always prepare and plan extensively when traveling during an area's hurricane or typhoon season. Best be prepared for worst-case scenarios. After all, our paranoia knows no bounds these days.