When we arrived at the legendary Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia, we did not expect to be stranded there a day later, as the worst flooding in decades engulfed the region, killing at least 26 people and leading to the cancellation of the PGA Tour. The hotel flooded and lost power. Yet the staff kept the stately hotel running. The Greenbrier hotel staff amazed me with their true hospitality and grace under pressure.
We checked in at the elegant Greenbrier Hotel on a Wednesday. The next day, 10 inches of rain pounded West Virginia. Flash floods uprooted huge trees, closed roads and train tracks, downed power lines, and swallowed cars. It was the worst flooding in decades in West Virginia. At least 26 people died and the high water washed out scores of roads and bridges and knocked out power to tens of thousands of people. Floods even caused several houses to float into the swollen river and crash into bridges. President Obama declared it a major disaster for the area.
West Virginia Devastated by Flood
The West Virginia counties that are home to most of the Greenbrier staff were devastated by flood damage. Staff members were at work on Thursday when many learned their homes were flooded, or their family members stranded, or their cars damaged or swept away by floods. While getting (or anxiously waiting for) news about their own families and homes, the Greenbrier Hotel staff continued to take care of hotel guests.
Greenbrier Staff Shines in the Disaster
Parts of the Greenbrier Hotel flooded – the casino, spa, pool, bowling alley. The entire hotel lost power for 20+ hours, starting Thursday. Yet the staff kept the hotel running, with approximately 1,000 guests, and no power.
Staff spent Thursday night at the hotel. They distributed flashlights to adults and, to make it less scary, handed out glow sticks to kids. They offered free sandwiches, salads, and ice cream. Despite suffering flood damage to their homes and cars, the resilient Greenbrier staff prepared and served meals, kept some stores in the hotel open, and helped guests make arrangements to leave.
One waiter cheered up guests who were sitting on the floor, charging their phones in one of the few working outlets, by delivering a dinner order to their spot in the hallway. Staff musicians serenaded the hotel guests gathered in the one hallway with electricity by singing – what else – “Country Roads” (Almost Heaven, West Virginia).
A guide who gives tours at the Greenbrier spent Thursday night at the hotel and offered tours the following day to distract guests stranded in the power-less hotel.
On Saturday, the Greenbrier Hotel closed to begin repairs and guests left however they could. President Obama declared several West Virginia counties to be national disaster areas. Because of extensive flood damage to the golf course, the Greenbrier and the PGA cancelled the golf tournament scheduled for July 2016. Throughout, the Greenbrier staff treated hotel guests with courtesy and kindness.
The Greenbrier staff’s ability to remain calm and smiling despite the chaos in many of their own lives and outside the hotel felt like genuine hospitality and an inspiring example of grace under pressure.
Read our tips for handling a travel emergency.