- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Hotels hundreds of miles from the coast are filling up fast as seaside residents flee Hurricane Isabel.

Managers said they expected high occupancy rates for the rest of the week, although rooms were still available in the Carolinas and Virginia yesterday.

By Tuesday afternoon, the Holiday Inn Express in Dunn, N.C., 40 miles south of Raleigh, was booked solid through tomorrow evening, said front-desk clerk Demetrice Massey.

“We really didn’t expect this to happen so soon. We thought more people would wait and see,” she said. The hotel is recruiting every available staffer to work an extra shift to accommodate the crowds, she said Tuesday.

Dozens of Studio 6, Motel 6 and Red Roof Inn motels near the evacuated regions are prepping for more bookings, said Eric Studer, marketing-services vice president for Accor North America.

“The managers are in a waiting period right now, especially because the hurricane was downgraded. But it could be upgraded just as easily,” Mr. Studer said.

Hotels also may see extended bookings if the hurricane inflicts major residential damage, he said.

Further north in Woodbridge, Va., just 30 minutes south of Washington, hotel managers were expecting an evening rush from people evacuating Virginia Beach.

At the Rodeway Inn on Jefferson Davis Highway, General Manager Amy Latham said four persons had checked in by 3 p.m. yesterday. “Some of those people are coming up from Virginia Beach who have gotten a jump on the traffic,” she said.

Ms. Latham said several local residents had also reserved rooms because they live in mobile homes.

“When the weather gets dangerous like this, you see people living in trailers seeking more secure shelter,” she said.

Several evacuated families from Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., have already settled into their temporary homes for the next few days at the Econo Lodge two miles down the road in Woodbridge.

“I don’t know why they forced us to evacuate. I would have rather stayed at home,” said Technical Sgt. Michelle Lindsey. Sgt. Lindsey, her husband and two children drove up to Woodbridge yesterday afternoon after being told to move 100 miles inland.

“We got lucky getting a room here because most of the places were already sold out when we called,” Mrs. Lindsey said.

Air Force Master Sgt. John Hardina tried hotels in Richmond yesterday when he got the orders to evacuate, but had to change plans.

“Even the upscale hotels in Woodbridge were full when I looked online, so we were pretty fortunate. But this was not how I wanted to celebrate my 20th anniversary with the Air Force,” which is tomorrow, Sgt. Hardina said.

His daughter, 12-year-old Veronica, disagreed: “It’s pretty cool being able to miss school.”

Hotels around the District were bracing yesterday for last-minute check-ins from stranded travelers and residents living in low-lying areas.

Managers at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City and Tysons Corner plan to hand out Isabel survival kits, which include bottled water, granola bars, trail mix, apples and glow sticks.

The Four Seasons in Washington is offering a “Shelter from the Storm” discount for rooms tonight and tomorrow night. Rooms will go for $195 a night, compared with normal rates of $375 to $480.

Other hotels, like the Econo Lodge North in Winchester, Va., received only a handful of reservations.

“We’ve had a couple of calls but nothing major. People don’t realize this hurricane is coming their way,” said a front-desk clerk on Tuesday who asked not to be named.

Other hotels like the Best Western in Lynchburg, Va., about 114 miles west of Richmond, received several cancellations after Isabel was reduced to a Category 2 storm.

“We still have a 90 percent occupancy rate for Thursday night and 95 percent for Friday, so we’re still pretty packed,” said front-desk clerk Josh Jackson on Tuesday.

The Hampton Inn in Leesburg also received some cancellations from travelers who felt confident facing the storm.

“We’ve had some cancellations, but it’s hard to say,” said General Manager Alex Mai. “Depending on how this storm evolves, we may be sold out like we were yesterday.”

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