Hurricane Laura hits near Houston, hoteliers prepare

The storm threatens those already struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic

A satellite photo shows the size and power of Hurricane Laura as it headed toward the Texas coastline this week. Hoteliers were stocking up on supplies in preparation.

HURRICANE LAURA SURGED ashore on the coastlines of Texas and Louisiana Wednesday as a powerful storm. In Houston, the city hit by many such storms in the past, local hoteliers, already struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, were making plans to once again make it through the tempest.

Laura was a Category 4 storm as it was approaching the coast and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged residents to take all possible precautions.

“The power of Hurricane Laura is unprecedented, and Texans must take action now to get out of harm’s way and protect themselves,” said Governor Abbott. “The conditions of this storm are unsurvivable, and I urge Southeast Texans to take advantage of these final few hours to evacuate, secure their property, and take all precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”

That’s exactly what Miraj Patel, president of Wayside Investment Group in Houston, was planning to do, knowing that his company’s recently opened Red Roof Inn PLUS in Galveston was in the line of fire. Patel opened the hotel in the spring, hoping to cash in on the summer season only to see those plans fall to the pandemic, then rise again somewhat in the summer.

“Our Galveston property right now is under mandatory evacuation. It’s unfortunate. Occupancy went down really quickly,” Patel said. “Yesterday there was talk of it coming near Galveston, but now it’s a little bit more toward Beaumont. I think everyone’s still evacuating the whole Beaumont area and the whole Galveston area.”

Sawan Patel, managing partner at Unity Hotels Group and director of AAHOA’s Southeast Texas Region, has been preparing for Laura for the last few days.

“We’ve made sure all of our properties are stocked with supplies and water. We’ve also made it a point to keep our guests updated on the updated weather forecasts of local authorities and potential storm impacts,” Sawan said. “I’ve also been keeping in touch with my contacts in the American Red Cross to ensure we can be of service to them during any recovery operations as well as with my contacts in the Harris County and City of Houston emergency management departments to ensure that our areas and nearby areas are prepared to receive assistance in the event of flooding or significant wind impact. I’ve also been in close contact with other local leaders in the industry to help other hotel owners get prepared.”

Sawan said he was hoping Laura would continue to shift east and spare Houston the worst impact, and that is what happened as the eye of the storm finally came ashore in Louisiana. Along with his father Hasu, Sawan has already been busy helping his fellow hoteliers get through the pandemic.

“I pray that any damage to the greater Houston area is minimal as so many hotel owners have already endured long-term devastation with the ongoing economic crisis due to COVID,” he said.

Information on Hurricane Laura is available at the Texas Hurricane Center and The National Hurricane Center.

Three years ago, Hurricane Harvey flooded several parts of Houston.