HURRICANE IAN PLOWED across Cuba and strengthened into a Category 4 storm Wednesday with its sites on central Florida, where it would kill more than 70 people before moving on to the Carolinas. Part of what made Ian so deadly was its unpredictability, as south Florida hotelier Jan Gautam witnessed.
Gautam, president and CEO of IHRMC Hotels & Resorts in Orlando, said Ian hit with Category 1 force wind in the Kissimmee and Orlando area, damaging seven of his properties. That came as a surprise to many of his guests who had fled the Tampa area where Ian had been expected to hit.
“This particular hurricane was supposed to hit Tampa Bay and we were not expecting it to come towards us in Orlando,” Gautam said. “Suddenly, at the last moment the route was changed and most of the people from the Tampa area were staying in Orlando, so hotels in Orlando were completely full. These were the people who came from central Florida and we were actually beaten up badly.”
Ian brought massive flooding from its storm surge in Florida, where 47 deaths were confirmed as of Saturday, according to the Associated Press. Most of those deaths were from drowning. By Sunday, reports were that the death toll in Florida had reason to at least 76, according to CNN.
Also as of Saturday, the state had deployed more than 1,000 Florida National Guard members to perform search and rescue missions, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office. A total of 5,000 Florida guardsmen had been activated for hurricane response along with nearly 2,000 Guardsmen from neighboring states.
More than 42,000 linemen were responding to more than 1.6 million reported power outages. The Florida Division of Emergency Management had set up points of distribution, dispatching 200 trucks of food, water and ice for affected residence.
Gautam said water damage from leaks through windows and damaged sections of roof were the primary issue with his hotels, which include brands from Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Marriott International and Hilton. He doesn’t have an estimate on the costs of damage yet.
“It’s too early to say because the water keeps moving around in the building and at the same time we’re still evaluating all the properties but it’s hard to say what kind of damage,” he said. “The problem right now is a lot of people can’t come to work because of the water. The roads are not even clear yet. There’s four to five feet of water on the roads and it’s getting hard for people to actually come out from their homes and it’s hard for people to go to their homes, whether their homes are safe or not they don’t even know.”
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the State Emergency Response Team have activated the Business Damage Assessment Survey to gather data on damage to businesses in the state.
“The business damage assessment survey assists DEO and its federal, state, and local partners in those efforts,” said Dane Eagle, DEO secretary. “I encourage businesses impacted by Hurricane Ian to complete the Business Damage Assessment Survey at FloridaDisaster.biz.”
Ian strengthened into a hurricane again after passing over Florida and slamming into North and South Carolina on Friday, killing four people in North Carolina, according to AP. About 280,000 people statewide in that state were without power at one point Saturday morning. Ian continued up the East Coast but had weakened into a tropical rainstorm by Sunday.
AAHOA looking out for its members
AAHOA is reaching out to its members in Florida to determine what assistance they need, said Laura Lee Blake, the association’s president and CEO, in a statement. AAHOA members own 65 percent of hotels in Florida, she said.
“Numerous of our members have seen their hotels, and main livelihoods, destroyed, damaged, and impacted. The reopening and rebuilding of the hotels will be a first and crucial step in the recovery process for Florida, especially since first responders, essential workers, builders, and contractors, will need lodging as they provide assistance and rebuild damaged communities,” Blake said. “AAHOA leadership is currently on the ground in Florida, assisting our members and reaching out to authorities to offer assistance as needed. Our organization has connected with several relief organizations including BAPS Charities, along with other groups focused on aiding those who need food, water, and related supplies. Our members stand ready to volunteer for these organizations and assist where necessary.”
Naresh “Nash” Patel, AAHOA chairman from 2004 to 2005, is based in Pensacola which was not affected by the storm. His hotels are full now, and Patel said Saturday he was planning to head south to lend a hand.
“I’m actually heading down to the affected areas this week. I’m not only a hotel owner but also a general contractor,” Patel said. “We’re heading out there just to see if we can help anybody out and do what needs to be done. Also, some of our colleagues like Rahul [Patel, AAHOA’s director for the Florida region,] are putting together a town hall meeting from AAHOA in that area just to get everybody together, making sure that they don’t get taken advantage of because a lot of people at times like this, people are desperate to make decisions quickly. We want to caution them that those decisions should be the right decision. Do your due diligence.”
Just over a year ago, Hurricane Ida devastated parts of the U.S. Gulf coast and unleashed even deadlier flooding in the Northeast.