TWENTY-seven Blackpool schoolchildren were today stranded in the middle of a hurricane disaster zone.
The pupils, along with three teachers from Montgomery High School in Bispham, should have returned from a half-term trip to New York and Washington yesterday.
But with the east coast of the US battered by one of the worst storms ever to hit the country - leaving at least 50 people dead and 50 million people without power in their homes - all flights have been cancelled.
Parents of two of the pupils in the school party, which is holed up in a hostel in Washington, today described how they have endured sleepless nights after news broke of the tropical storm.
Frightened mum Terri Evans was petrified about the welfare of her 14-year-old son Tom.
Miss Evans, of Queen’s Promenade, Bispham, said: “It has been one of the worst weeks of my life.
“I’ve barely slept a wink, watching all the coverage on the news, hearing that people had lost their lives, and knowing my son was on a school trip right in the heart of it.
“I’m not sure if the school realised how extreme it was going to be but it has been horrible to sit at home powerless,.
“I’ve managed to speak to him a few times and he said the streets were like a river and that they had to board up the front of the hostel they are staying in. What makes it worse is he has a form of asthma that is affected by climate change. He has been in hospital with it so I was scared to death what was going on would trigger it again.”
Christine Moore, whose 14-year-old daughter Nicole is also on the school trip, has also endured sleepless nights.
Mrs Moore, of Neville Avenue, Cleveleys, said: “I’ve been beside myself and I just want her home to give her a hug.
“I know the school have done their best to keep the children safe and looked after but I won’t be sending Nicole on any more trips. This has almost sent me to a breakdown.”
The party flew to America on Wednesday last week and spent three nights in New York before moving to Washington.
Staff have posted messages via social networking site, Twitter, to say they had stocked up on food and would not leave the hostel “until the storm has passed”.
Headteacher Simon Brennand said: “We want all the youngsters, and the staff, home safely as soon as possible.
“It goes without saying we will be very relieved when everyone is home safe and sound but in the meantime we are keeping in very close touch with all parents and keeping them up to date.”
Mr Brennand said he hoped the pupils would be able to get a flight back today.
Coun Amy Cross, a councillor in Ingthorpe ward and a former school governor at Montgomery, has been closely involved with keeping parents aware of the situation.
Coun Cross said: “I am doing everything I possibly can to help. I have managed to get an officer from the Council to ring the actual group, so we have made contact with them and we know they are safe.”
Shaun Walsh, from Bispham, and a former pupil at Montgomery, watched the storm hit New York from his apartment overlooking Central Park.
Mr Walsh, 51, an international relief worker, works in America for five months a year. He said: “The city is dead, it has stopped working, and that is quite unnerving. There is no one on the street, no yellow cabs, nothing is moving.
“The only thing you can hear is the wind and it is so loud it drowns out the sound of the TV channel that’s been set up for New Yorkers.
“I’m supposed to be flying back to Blackpool today but whether they will have the planes back in action is anyone’s guess.
“I’ll have to see what happens and if necessary sit it out here for a few more days.”
While Mr Walsh is calm about the situation, his wife Jill and their five children at the family home in Beaufort Avenue, Bispham, are worried sick.
Mrs Walsh said: “It’s been a difficult time. Shaun has been on the phone describing how the wind has been blowing windows in and the lights have been flashing on and off.
“There was a crane building a skyscraper that collapsed, then one day we couldn’t get hold of him – and we really panicked then.”