ON FRIDAY AFTERNOON, Mirage Hospitality President and CEO Miraj Patel was ready for Hurricane Harvey to hit the Houston area where his family owns and operates 13 hotels. However, Patel was still stunned by the impact of the storm, which turned city streets into rivers and which continues to swamp two states with heavy rains.
And as the effects of the downpours began to sink in Saturday, Patel’s hotel began receiving guests who had clearly underestimated Harvey. “People were out watching the Mayweather fight,” he said, referring to the Floyd Mayweather Jr. versus Conor McGregor boxing match. “It was shocking because we saw a lot of families coming in.”
They would leave their cars, with the family still on board, a mile away to walk barefoot through the flood and rain to see if they could get a room at Patel’s hotel before going back for their loved ones. “They were at a point where they couldn’t even speak,” he said.
Harvey was a Category 4 storm when it made landfall Friday near Rockport, Texas, bringing intense wind and storm surge. But it’s the flooding from the heavy rain that has led to the biggest threat. On Tuesday, Harvey was a tropical storm with 45 mph winds, and was moving at only 3 mph, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. “The primary threat with this storm over the next few days will remain devastating, life threatening flooding,” the TDPS said in an advisory. “Harvey is expected to produce additional rainfall accumulations of 10 to 20 inches through Thursday over parts of the upper Texas coast into southwestern Louisiana.”
The death toll from the storm stood at 14 Tuesday and was expected to rise. “We’re staying as protected as we can,” Patel said Monday as Harvey continued to pour rain over the saturated city.
Patel said two of his company’s properties did receive some flood damage, the Palace Inn Hobby and the Palace Inn South Houston. He said 17 adult and eight children between the ages of 4 and 14 had to be evacuated from the latter hotel.
Before the storm they had stocked up on food and water and so had plenty for the evacuees in their care, Patel said, so they had not yet requested aid from the government authorities or the American Red Cross.
The hotel provided complimentary rooms for staff and their family. Patel said they were only charging regular weekday rates for most of the guests. “We make money as a community, but we also stick up for our community,” Patel said.
They even gave the clothes off their backs, Patel said. “My dad loves his linen shirts. We gave a lot of those shirts away,” he said. “At night we went looking for stranded families.” On Tuesday evening, Patel took more donated clothing to the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown for storm victims sheltering there.
Patel said he has been in touch with other members of the Small Independent Motel owners Association of Houston to share information and provide mutual assistance as well. Meanwhile, hotels across the state were taking in large numbers of evacuees, and Governor Greg Abbott suspended statewide the state and local Hotel and Motel Occupancy Tax for relief-effort personnel and victims of the storm for 14 days. “There is no doubt that Hurricane Harvey is creating a temporary housing emergency in the state of Texas,” Abbott said. “The state of Texas has a duty to ensure we are offering as much relief as possible to the victims, first responders, and relief-effort personnel, of this terrible storm. Reducing the cost of hotel accommodations is one part of that process. Those who have taken safety precautions by evacuating need not to be struggling with the cost of shelter during this already difficult time.”
The Austin Marriott South in Austin, Texas, had filled about 50 rooms with evacuees from Corpus Christi and Houston, general manager David Rowland told the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. “We’ve softened the animal policy and the cancellation policy to be as flexible as possible,” he said. “We’ve noticed the little things seem to really make a big difference.”
Patel said despite the dire situation Harvey created in the city, he tends to agree with Mayor Sylvester Turner’s decision not to evacuate the city. “How do you evacuate a city of 2.5 million people? It would have been a disaster,” he said.
Going forward, though, Patel said he plans to write city leaders about improving the city’s drainage and even limiting building permits because the overdevelopment in the area leaves the water with no place to go.