EMERGENCY measures were put in place at Chester Catholic High School after dozens of staff and pupils were left stranded across the world.
The Old Wrexham Road school, Handbridge, returned from its Easter holidays on Monday but nine teachers – including the whole of the modern languages department – four support staff and 25 pupils were stuck abroad with important A-level exams due to start next week.
Headteacher John Murray said: “We’re under a volcanic cloud.
“We have got a team of cover supervisors who have been doing brilliant work and we have got some supply teachers in.
“Colleagues who are here are rallying around, Dunkirk Spirit and such like are being talked about.
“I think people have really pulled together. As soon as we realised it was going to be a problem we looked at particular pressure points.
“We are short of teachers for exam groups so we are switching things around, so for example A level language students have got some teaching.
“Our modern languages team have been affected, particularly French where the head of department and another teacher couldn’t get back.
“The leadership team for languages has reorganised the time table because the exams are coming very quickly, just next week the students were due to start their oral exams.
“Our first teacher arrived back yesterday afternoon, a PE teacher who was stuck in Mallorca.
“We’ve received three or four messages from people arranging travel, one is on his way from Thailand and the others are expected over the weekend so we’re getting back to normal.”
'I might miss mum's funeral because of ash cloud'
A DREAM trip to the Caribbean has turned to disaster for a grandmother who fears she will miss her mum’s funeral stranded by the flight ban.
Sheila Roberts, of Whitby Avenue, Upton was in the Caribbean destination with her sisters and their partners when her mum passed away earlier this month.
Margaret ‘Betty’ Keep, 79, of Llys Eleanor, Shotton died from pneumonia after a long battle with illness following a hip operation.
In another cruel twist of fate, before Sheila and sisters Linda Morris, 58, of Ewloe and Pauline German, 53, of Connah’s Quay left for their cruise on April 3, holiday operator Thompson moved their trip forward by a week. It meant they would have been home for their mum’s death if the original plans had remained.
Sheila’s daughter Tina Farrall, 39, from Tarvin is housesitting for her 60-year-old mother and looking after her four Yorkshire terriers while she is stuck in the Dominican Republic. She said the funeral has already been postponed by a week from this Friday to April 30.
Mrs Farrall added: “It’s a nightmare.
“The holiday had been booked for 18 months. It was three or four days into the holiday when we had to tell them my nan was dying. Because they were island hopping they had to stay on the cruise – there were no airports on the islands.
“It has ruined their holiday.
“The last text I got on Tuesday night said they still had three more nights in their hotel. No-one’s telling them anything and no-one seems to be doing anything.
“We sat with my nan for four days while she lay dying – that was hard enough.
“They have been devastated, crying, but when I spoke to my mum yesterday she had anger in her voice. Now it’s the worry of missing my nan’s funeral. They can’t hold my nan any longer.”
Sheila was visiting her ailing mother every night while she was being treated at the Countess of Chester Hospital.
Mrs Farrall added: “A week before they were due to go my nan cried to my mum and told mum not to go. She said ‘I don’t think I’ve got long’. She back-tracked because she knew my mum wouldn’t have gone.
“When I spoke to mum yesterday morning she said the navy have put boats on for people in Spain but they forget about us over here.”
The sisters were holidaying with Chris Sadler, owner of Chris Sadler Carpets in Vicars Cross, and his wife Margaret.
“It’s completely ruined their holiday as well,” added Tina.
Back home, fourth sister Jeannette Toye, 57, of Ewloe, brother Vernon and dad James are all desperate for them to return home soon.
The funeral of Margaret Keep, married to husband James for 62 years, will take place at St Deiniol’s, Hawarden on April 30 at 10am.
Foreign students stuck in Chester
A REVERSE of the problems facing stranded holidaymakers has struck at an English language school in Chester after foreign pupils couldn’t leave Europe to start their courses.
English in Chester, of Stanley Place, is balancing organising stranded pupils’ safe return home, as well as attempting to bring in new students from abroad.
Prinicpal Nigel Paramor said: “All our students come from over seas and we have students arriving every week so it’s had a big impact.
“We were expecting 15 students on Monday and none of the arrived.
“We had 42 Austrian teenagers due to leave last weekend, but we’ve managed to get them on a coach.
“They all came from a school with their teachers, they were put on a program for a week but their trip turned out to be 10 days.
“There’s also a group of Swiss students and we have been spending most of yesterday working out how they are going to get home.
“There’s nothing you can do apart from maintain contact with companies, different forms of transport.”
This weekend is make or break for the school as 79 students are expected to arrive for new courses.
“We have got a lot of students due this weekend and if they don’t come it could have a big impact on the business,” added Nigel.
“It’s having an impact on our staffing here with people constantly keeping in touch with host families and the students overseas.
“Everyone is doing a fantastic job. We’re getting through it due to the excellence of my team.
“Hopefully people will be flying again by the weekend, we’re keeping our fingers crossed it will all have calmed down.”
Businesswoman's holiday 'hell' stranded in Tenerife
A CITY businesswoman stranded in Tenerife with her young family due to the volcanic ash cloud hopes to be homeward-bound this weekend.
Laura Heywood is proprietor of Scented Garden Holistic Retreat, on Bridge Street Row and Eastgate Row, Chester.
She travelled to Costa Adeje, Tenerife, on Monday, April 12, with her husband Jason, 39, and children three-year-old Kitty and Jake, one.
The family, of Pantymwyn, near Mold, were due to fly back on Monday but their flight was cancelled after the spreading volcanic ash prompted a flight ban across most of Europe and further afield last Thursday.
Initially the family were told the earliest they could fly home was May 2 but speaking yesterday after the flight ban was lifted Laura said: “The latest news is Jason has managed to get us on a flight on Saturday night into Bristol and then we will hire a car to Manchester.
“We were lucky to get these as the ones promised to us on the phone had gone by the time Jason had got to the airport.
“The rumour at the moment is that a cruise liner is coming to Tenerife sometime at the weekend.”
“Our hotel was quiet tonight as most of the package guests have been moved to cheaper accommodation.
Despite the family’s relief that the flight ban has been lifted Laura was critical of the way the crisis has been handled.
Speaking on Tuesday she said: “To say it is hell out here is an understatement.
“We’ve been told we can’t claim on insurance as it’s an act of God but the airline said on Monday they can cover accommodation and meals.
“We have received no information at all.”
Laura, who is relying on her staff to cover her absence at work, said: “Single flights to Madrid are being sold for £1,000 and that’s just to get there to continue the journey over land. The Easyjet helpline number given out, costing family and friends 60p a minute, is just ringing out or cutting off.
“We have had no Government contact and the embassy is always engaged when we ring.
“People just want to be home to get on with their lives.”
An Easyjet spokeswoman said: “We apologise if they have not been able to get through but can assure customers we are doing everything we can to help as many passengers as possible in very difficult circumstances.”
Cricketer stumped by volcanic ash flight ban
A KEEN cricketer is afraid he will miss the opening match of the season because he is stuck 7,000 miles away in the Philippines.
James Huxley, 35, from Hoole, is due to play for Saughall Cricket Club against Heaton Mersey Village on Saturday but was unable to board his flight home last weekend because of the volcanic ash crisis.
James, who is frustrated by the lack of information from airline KLM, joked: “Who is going to provide the big hits without me in the team?”
James, a graphic designer with the tourism and marketing team at Wirral Council, has enjoyed his solo back-packing trip to the Philippines but unhappy to be stuck in the urban jungle of the capital city of Manila, checking the web for updates every few hours.
“As beautiful a country as Philippines is, Manila is not a place I would choose to stay at length. It is very busy, very hot, very enclosed, very noisy and there is permanent traffic.
“I’m staying at a basic hotel which is costing me 1500 pesos per night, about £23. I have contacted my managers, who have been very understanding and sympathetic, which is a big relief.
“At the moment I am living off my credit card but it is expensive and the costs are building up. I do not know the situation regarding extra holiday or insurance – I will worry about that when I get back.
“I find it quite ironic that I’m visiting one of the most volcanic countries in the world and yet my flight is cancelled because of a volcano back in Europe!”
James added: “I’m really looking forward to getting home. Plus I’m craving the roast dinner that my mum has promised me when I get back.
“At the moment though, I don’t know when that is likely to be. Despite the fact that planes are now in the sky, I’m no nearer now to getting a return date than on Sunday when my flight was cancelled.”
City's warship to the rescue
CHESTER’S affiliated warship HMS Albion rescued 310 British holiday-makers stranded in Spain because of the volcanic ash crisis.
The ship arrived in the northern port of Santander on Tuesday morning to pick up the tourists as well as 500 troops returning from Afghanistan.
They mixed with Army, Navy and RAF personnel as they boarded the amphibious assault ship for a 40-hour journey to Portsmouth.
About 250 were “vulnerable cases” chosen by Foreign Office officials. A further 60 lucky travellers did not have a place booked but managed to secure a passage home.
Many had travelled from across Spain, northern Africa and even South America in a bid to get back to the UK.
Speaking shortly before the Albion set sail at 1.20pm, Commander Geoff Wintle said: “It’s a warship so the civilians on board won't be used to the austere conditions, but they will get fresh rations, fish and chips for dinner tonight and curry tomorrow.
“We will provide as many camp beds and sleeping bags as we can, but it's not a five-star hotel. There’s a dry policy on board so there won't be any drinking going on.”
HMS Albion was sailing with its maximum 1,150 capacity.