Gareth Morgan's Galapagos hotel destroyed by tsunami

UPDATED WEDNESDAY 12.30pm: The hotel owner weighs in, displuting Mr Morgan's account. Mr Morgan strikes back with his own photos of damage on the day the waves hit.

UPDATE WEDNESDAY MARCH 16, 12.30pm: Gareth Morgan - whose account of the Japan earthquake tsunami hitting his Galapagos Islands hotel Friday has been disputed by its owner - has uploaded his own photos, taken the morning after the waves hit, to his World by Bike site.

The pictures - taken when Mr Morgan returned to the Finch Bay Eco Hotel on Saturday morning, after being evaculated Friday night - show the wave clearly struck with some force. They show a demolished wooden boardwalk (right) and track the tidal surge's path up to the hotel's pool, and its first floor.

UPDATE WEDNESDAY MARCH 16, 12.20pm: Of Mr Morgan's account of turtles in the swimming pool (see original story below), Mr Hamilton adds: I've checked with the Manager of the Finch Bay, who has checked with the staff who were on site on Saturday morning. He reports that a marine turtle was washed up on the shores of a neighbour's house by the high tides. Hotel staff helped to carry it back to the sea. It was never in the hotel's swimming pool."

UPDATE WEDNESDAY MARCH 16, 9.30am: The owner of the Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos hotel evacuated ahead of the Japan quake tsunami has disputed Mr Morgan's version of events.

The Finch Bay Eco Hotel is owned by Metropolitan Tours. The company's communications director, Dominic Hamilton, left the below comment after NBR's original story.

Today, he forwarded NBR two photos (right), which he said were taken this morning.

Metropolitan will not repay guests for lost nights, but did spring for nights in a hotel on higher ground following the Friday night evacuation. Those who didn't fly back to the mainland on Saturday spent the following two nights at the alternative accomodation before moving back into the Finch Bay today.

Mr Hamilton's message.

I do not profess to know about how to hold a graph the right way up or to measure the success of growth fund. But I do know about the situation of the Finch Bay Eco Hotel in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island.

Following is the correct information regarding the hotel, which certainly will NOT be "closed for a couple of months". Unfortunately, for reasons Gareth Morgan best knows, his reporting of the situation at the hotel is exaggerated.

All our staff have been working non-stop to get the hotel back to its usual, excellent state. We are delighted to report that, thanks to the dedication and energy of all our employees in Puerto Ayora, the hotel will be operational tomorrow, Tuesday 15th. It will receive its guests with the standards of service, passion for hospitality and dishes from its restaurant that has made it so popular with visitors the world over.

The hotel was flooded by the equivalent of various very high tides – not waves. Six of the lower-lying rooms were affected by the waters. They are being repaired at present and we expect these to be ready again very soon. All the other 21 rooms are fine and were not damaged at all.

An internal wall by the reception is currently being repaired, as is the boardwalk that connects the hotel with the dock (guests will walk a small section along the sand).

The swimming pool will be back to normal in under 10 days.

None of the effects of the flooding will be felt from an operational point-of-view from tomorrow onwards.

With regards to the Galapagos National Park, the park's staff, with the help of the guides onboard the vessels that cruise the islands, are currently assessing the damage that the tsunami may have had on the archipelago's wildlife. Reports today spoke of three sites "affected". It will take this week for the extent of any effects to be assessed in any professional way. All of us who care about the islands hope that the disruption to its famous wildlife has been minimal.

Dominic Hamilton
Head of Communication
Metropolitan Touring - owner of the Finch Bay Eco Hotel


UPDATE MONDAY MARCH 14, 12.30pm: Now in a hotel in the Ecuador capital of Quito, Gareth Morgan chatted to NBR via Skype about his Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos hotel being destroyed by the tsunami caused by Friday's earthquake in Japan.

NBR: What was it like when the tsunami hit - did you fear for your lives?
GM: No we were ordered to higher ground [before it arrived]. the whole town was evacuated. There was no impact here at all from the Chile tsunami this time last year, so we all thought it wa a bit of a drama until we then heard what had happened. We returned the next day which is when I took the photos [yet to be uploaded to Mr Morgan's World by Bike site, although he hopes to get them on later today].

NBR: Where were you at the time of the Chile tsunami? [August last year]
GM: We were just over the border in Argentina for the 8.8 quake at Concepcion - in a town called Villa Union - one guy killed there when wall collapsed on him.

NBR: How was the hotel - bit of damage or was it totaled?
GM: Not totaled, but it will be out of action for a couple of months. There was two metres of water through the bottom story which took the dining area, kitchen and six rooms out. Turtles ended up in the pool so even they were disrupted.

NBR: Were the turtles okay?
GM: Yes they were gently placed back on the shore that evening!

NBR: Was anybody injured in Santa Cruz?
GM: No - the precautionary stance of the authorities ensuring everyone was evacuated was proven to be sensible. But even they were surprised how much of a surge there was - quite surprised. In Pisco, Peru - 300 house were demolished. So it proves that distance is not necessary a safety buffer with this type of event.

NBR: What next, back to NZ? 
GM: No, no. Tomorrow we fly to Bogota to pick up our motorbikes - we'll be riding again by lunchtime. It's the third leg of what's been a big ride all over South and Central America. We finish in Los Angeles in mid-May

NBR: Whenever NBR posts a story mentioning you, there are always people who say "he's biking all over the world all the time. When does he manage his Kiwisaver funds?" etc. How do you respond to that?
GM: The topbox of my bike has a satellite dish in it, I'm online every day, I get to see far more of investment opportunities around the world than I would staying in little 'ol NZ. Indeed we have invested in a number of the themes I've uncovered as I move around.

SUNDAY MARCH 13: Outside of Japan, there were few reports of waves caused by Friday's earthquake causing damage.

But one came from fund manager and philanthropist Gareth Morgan.

Mr Morgan and his wife Jo, who has been on a motorcycling tour of the Americas, were staying on the Galapagos island of Santa Cruz. He tweeted Sunday morning:

Our beachfront hotel [was] destroyed by tsunami. We were moved to higher ground. 3m water through the dining room, turtles in the pool. Sad

Official accounts are sketchy. ABC News reported that the Galapagos Islands suffered "infrastructure damage" caused by the tsunami, which struck early Saturday morning NZ time.

Then, shortly after:

Who would believe it? On Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos - other side of Pacific from Japan - and water surge has destroyed our hotel!

And Sunday evening NZ time, son Sam Morgan weighed in with:

Mum and Dad stuck up a hill in the Galapagos Islands after Tsunami rips through and destroys their hotel.

The Gareth Morgan Investments principal later messaged NBR that he had been staying at the Finch Bay Eco Hotel. The hotel's website lists it as a eco establishment with a five-star rating and rates around $NZ450 a night. It boasts - or at least boasted - "six brand new ocean view rooms" and a private yacht for guests.

Early Monday morning, Mr Morgan. tweeted another user that he was returning to the mainland hoped to be in the Ecuador capital Quito in six hours. He said he had taken photos, which he would upload at that time.

NBR is both alarmed at the wave's impact on the Morgans, and impressed by Gareth's ability to post to Twitter from a tsunami-hit island in one of the remotest places on earth.

According to Frommers, the vast majority of Galapagos tourists stay on boats or ships, but Santa Cruz is home to a small number of hotels.

BELOW: Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos, off the coast of Ecuador (use controls top left of map to zoom).

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