WITH HURRICANE MICHAEL due for a surprise appearance in two days, employees at Baywood Hotels’ Wingate Inn in Destin, Florida, on Oct. 9 were placing sandbags around the hotel’s first-floor entrances. The hotel is directly in the storm’s path.
“We’ve closed the shutters,” Baywood Hotels CEO Al Patel said. “’We’re battening down the hatches.”
They also were evacuating the remainder of the Wingate’s guests, Patel said, and would shut the hotel after they had left for safety. “We’re going to get everyone evacuated and make sure they can move on.”
The day before they were at 50 percent capacity, mostly business travelers rather than the tourists who fill the beach town during the summer season. There was some panic, Patel said, given Hurricane Michael’s sudden formation into a category 3 hurricane and rapid approach across the Gulf of Mexico. News of its arrival only came on Saturday, he said.
“Today’s Tuesday and we’re already telling people to leave.”
The rest of Baywood Hotels’ properties in Florida were not expecting much from the storm, and indeed Patel planned to attend a grand opening in the Florida Keys on Wednesday.
As of the evening of Oct. 9, Michael was a category 3 hurricane just off the coast, moving at 12 mph with sustained winds of 120 mph and stronger gusts, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was expected to strengthen to nearly a category 4 by the time it makes landfall on Oct. 10. Along with the wind and rain, Michael was expected to bring a storm surge that could reach 13 feet in areas around Mexico Beach and Keaton Beach, Florida.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott had requested and received a pre-landfall emergency declaration from President Trump by Tuesday for 35 counties. A hurricane warning was in effect from the Alabama/Florida Border to the Suwannee River. Mandatory evacuations had been ordered in at least four counties and voluntary or phased evacuations ordered in several more.
AAHOA was working to keep its members up to date on the storm, said spokesman Peter Clerkin.
“We’ve sent out a few notifications to our members,” Clerkin said.
The notifications mainly directed members to AAHOA’s Hurricane Preparedness page for necessary information. But many were already familiar with hurricanes and the kind of assistance they can expect, Clerkin said.
“Most of our members in Florida have signed up with FEMA and can receive vouchers for displaced persons,” Clerkin said.
Hurricane Michael is expected to weaken substantially as it moves overland, but will still bring strong winds and heavy rain. That’s not good news for parts of North and South Carolina still recovering from Hurricane Florence that hit those states in early September.