TWO women from Skipton have bitterly condemned a high street travel firm for, they claim, leaving them and other holidaymakers to fend for themselves before Hurricane Irma devastated much of Florida.

Amy Short and her fiancee Charlotte Turner say they became increasingly terrified as their 14-day 'holiday of a lifetime' at Seaworld Florida in Orlando turned into a nightmare in the days before the hurricane hit.

In "panic mode," they say, the couple desperately tried to contact their holiday company Thomas Cook to get a flight home - or at least get some advice on what they should do.

Thousands of Florida residents were forced to flee their homes as the massive storm hit the islands of the Florida Keys and western parts of the US state on Sunday, as well as devastating several Caribbean islands, including Cuba. At least four people were killed in Florida, and at least 37 in the Caribbean.

On the Tuesday before Irma arrived, Amy said, they had asked their hotel to move them from a bungalow in the hotel grounds as they were sure it would be flooded.

They were given a room on the fifth floor of the hotel, the Doubletree by Hilton.

But, they say, they struggled to get information from Thomas Cook as people in Florida prepared for the storm.

Amy, 25, a security officer, told the Herald: "On Wednesday we made contact with Thomas Cook via 'online chat.' The staff member had no updated information regarding flight changes and I expressed my disappointment we hadn't received any email with safety information, or even reassurance to put us and other customers at ease in such a stressful time.

"We were clear in stating that if there was a flight available to leave before the hurricane hit us at the weekend that we would want to come home. Thomas Cook were hesitant and advised us to remain calm as nobody knew (for certain) that the hurricane was due to hit Florida

"If things changed and flights became available they would contact us via email or phone. We were also told to contact our Thomas Cook rep but the whole time there has been no rep at our hotel - not even a billboard in the hotel lobby."

Amy said they had received an email from the company on Thursday, which said that Orlando International Airport was to be closed between Saturday morning and Monday and that all flights in between these times were going to be rescheduled.

The company said it would be in touch shortly for official confirmation of the airport closure, Amy added.

They asked staff at their hotel for advice and were told to stock up with water and other emergency supplies. They were told to stay in their hotel room when the hurricane hit.

Amy said: "We were petrified and felt totally isolated. The hotel began filling up by the hundreds as people were fleeing their homes in a desperate attempt to take cover with their children and pets. The hotel turned into what felt like a zoo, with dogs barking into the early hours, animal faeces and urine inside and outside the hotel lobbies."

When the hurricane arrived Amy and Charlotte stayed in their room and became deeply worried as rain leaked in through the windows and power buzzed off and on.

Amy said: "We were seeing sights fit for Hollywood movies. Pylons coming down, causing neon blue and green flashes covering the sky, and debris flying around and huge trees collapsing.

"Tornado sirens were ringing outside for people to take shelter and on the TV. It was the most surreal and eye-opening experience we have ever been through and certainly would never like to go through it again."

Following the storm, Amy said she had tried to contact Thomas Cook for information on potential problems with their flight home, only to get what she claimed was "an unhelpful response."

She said on Monday: "Our current situation is praying everything runs smoothly for our departure home tomorrow, otherwise we are stranded out in Florida with nowhere to rest our heads unless we go to a shelter. Thanks for nothing Thomas Cook."

A spokesperson for Thomas Cook said: "Please be assured that the safety of our customers is always our first priority and that we continue to follow local and government authority advice.

"We are grateful to our customers for their patience during what is a worrying and difficult situation.”