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How Colonial Williamsburg Weathered Irene (PHOTOS)

First Posted: 09/01/11 09:26 AM ET   Updated: 10/31/11 06:12 AM ET

From the Outer Banks to rural Vermont, tourist destinations are rebuilding after Hurricane Irene; cleaning up damage of varying degrees and reassuring potential Labor Day visitors that life on the East Coast is (largely) back to normal.

Among the destinations is Colonial Williamsburg, the much-loved living history museum in Virginia that suffered Irene's wrath on Saturday. With roughly 600 guests on site, Williamsburg set in motion an elaborate emergency response plan on Thursday, two days before the storm's arrival.

To get a sense of how an 18th-century themed historic village (and its modern hotels) deal with a hurricane, HuffPost Travel spoke with Margie Tate, general manager of the Williamsburg Lodge, and Seth Farrell, director of historic area food and beverage. Both were on property for the storm.

HuffPost Travel: First things first, are you back in business and has any damage been cleaned up?

Margie Tate: We're up and running at full speed. It's a very good day here.

HPT: So how did you ride out the storm? It must be complicated to coordinate an operation to shut down and secure the historic district and corral hundreds of guests.

MT: We had 200 to 300 guests at any point at the Lodge, and as many at the Woodlands, so throughout it was 500 to 600 guests that we were taking care of. And we put up a lot of the local community, too.

A lot of our staff left their families at home. I had over 100 rooms of employees that stayed over Friday night to be able to open. The storm hit us around 11:00 and we were fully staffed. I am still amazed how everyone came together.

HPT: What was the plan operationally for Williamsburg, then? What do you have to do to ride out a hurricane?

Seth Farrell: The main thing is: were we were prepared for every scenario and how to communicate that to the guests.

Plans were put together on Thursday. We learned a lot from Isabel [in 2003]. A command post was set up [at the Williamsburg Lodge] on Saturday morning, when NOAA didn't really know when it was going to strike. Starting Friday we knew what we were going to do; Saturday we put it into operation.

One thing was that we moved everybody's reservations at the taverns. We contacted guests and had a friendly face in front of the taverns to say: "We're sorry but obviously we're in the middle of a hurricane."

HPT: What it was like to ride out the storm with all the other guests at the Lodge?

SF: We had balladeers who were staying in the hotel, so they sang for guests, as well as a magician, an evening program with dancing, and we put candles in the dining room. Unless you stuck your head out the door, you had a hard time believing we were in a hurricane.

MT: One of my brand-new managers — we didn't know she could play — but she went out and played our Steinway for guests. The dining room was probably the prettiest I've ever seen it, lit by candlelight.

In a storm like this, on Sunday morning we woke up and the sun was shining. Of course, we still didn't have power. The historic area was not open yet, Busch Gardens was still closed, so we brought entertainment in from the historic area. Last night we did the Grand Medley [an 18th-century vaudeville show that's usually in the Kimball Theatre], we had our magician back. What we tried to do was still create that environment of an excellent visit even though a lot of things weren't open.

HPT: How did your fantastic collection of rare-breed animals fare?

SF: The animals were never at risk. We treated them as well as we treated the guests!

HPT: Williamsburg escaped major damage, but what's it like for visitors thinking about a Labor Day or fall visit?

MT: Today we're fully back up and operational. We're at 100 percent.

SF: By 5 a.m. Sunday, you'd have never known but for the downed trees and puddles. We just got power back in the historic area today so we're still able to offer the experience.

MT: I think [the response] really sets the tone about what an experience would be like under normal circumstances.

SF: It was perfect: Everything came together and that's because we had a checklist and planning. The hurricane could've completely missed us or it could've been 10 times worse. We were prepared for either, and luckily it landed right in the middle. We just hope we don't get to repeat it with this next one.

Colonial Willimsburg After Irene
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Filed by Paul Brady  |